Moses Johnson and the rest of the freshmen on the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women's basketball team have been waiting their chance to show that they can contribute to the 2013-2014 basketball team. Sunday afternoon, they got their chance - and made the most of it.
Johnson and classmate Jasmine Joyner tied Taylor Hall for scoring honors with 10 points each, and the Mocs rallied from a 14-point second half deficit to defeat Colorado State 59-57 on the final day of the Waikiki Beach Marriott Rainbow Wahine Classic in Honolulu, Hawaii. Chelsey Shumpert, another freshman, hit a pair of free throws with 2.1 seconds remaining to provide the final margin on a flagrant foul by the Lady Rams' A.J. Newton.
With the team struggling in the first half, down 36-23 and shooting only 30 percent, UTC head coach Jim Foster, who had mentioned after Saturday evening's loss to Hawaii that there could be some changes on the horizon, started the second half with freshmen Joyner, Shumpert and Whitney Hartlage in the lineup. Johnson and Aryanna Gilbert each played major minutes, with Johnson scoring all of her points in the final 20 minutes.
At times, Foster had four freshmen on the floor with Hall, who played all 120 minutes of the three-game event.
"We got our chance to give coach the spark he wanted, and we did what we had to do," Johnson said on the radio. "We were really pumped about it; we've been waiting for our chance, so when we got in there, we just tried to give our best to our ability to do what Coach Foster wanted us to do."
The UTC freshmen scored 28 of the team's 36 second-half points, including the first 23. They went on a 25-10 extended run, taking a 57-56 lead on a 3-point play by Hall with 1:20 left in the game. Colorado State's Gritt Ryder was fouled 30 seconds later and hit one of two free throws to tie the game back up. Gilbert and Hall then missed shots on the following possession, but Newton had a pair of mistakes for the Lady Rams on the next two possessions -- first dribbling the ball off her leg, then wrapping up Shumpert to force the flagrant foul.
After one assist in the first half, the Mocs had 10 on 13 made baskets in the second half. They also out-rebounded the Lady Rams 22-16 in the final 20 minutes. Hall led the team with 12 rebounds, adding three assists, two blocks and two steals, while Johnson had six rebounds.
Colorado State, who had entered the game shooting 30 percent from 3-point range, hit 7-for-14 from 3-point range in the first half but only 1-for-4 in the second. Newton and Elin Gustavsson led the Lady Rams (4-3) with 12 points each, while Ellen Nystrom added 11. Sam Martin had nine points and 10 rebounds.
"Our freshmen played the way we wanted to play. They played ball movement and with some passion and intensity," Foster said on the radio. "The freshmen grew up a lot today. They got their opportunity and showed they have been paying attention. They've been working hard; maybe some of the older players will get the message that just because it's been done before, doesn't mean that their position is secure. This freshmen group is a very athletic group...their defensive ability is significant and they played with discipline within the framework of that."
The Mocs return home today. They'll take a couple of days off before returning to practice Wednesday, with their next game not until Dec. 10 at Jacksonville State.
"On the third day, in a situation like this, you learn a lot about yourself," Foster said. "We're deep, and we have some talented, young kids that have a nice spirit about them. It'll be interesting on Wednesday to see where the kids' heads are at."
Contact Gene Henley at email@example.com or 423-757-6311. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.