In a game dominated by missed shots, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women's basketball team made some big ones in the final six minutes Saturday to win 58-48 over Georgia Southern at McKenzie Arena.
Both teams made less than 30 percent of their field-goal attempts, but with the score tied at 40 and UTC's spot along atop the Southern Conference standings on the line, the Lady Mocs finished strong, outscoring the Eagles 18-8 the rest of the way.
"Somehow we always seem to hit those big shots," said UTC senior Erin Ogan, who had 12 points and seven rebounds. "We found a way to get it done."
A crowd of 2,062 saw a game that was light on offensive execution - between field goals and free throws, 94 shots were missed - but high on drama. Among those in attendance were about two dozen former UTC players who were recognized at halftime and played an alumni game afterward.
The Lady Mocs (18-6, 14-1) never trailed, and after Georgia Southern's Ashley Melson hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 40 with 6:10 remaining, freshman Andrea Neil made a free throw to put them back in front for good.
It was the UTC veterans who made the difference down the stretch. Ogan hit a 3-pointer for a 47-42 lead, but the Eagles (14-9, 9-5) got four points in a row from Ashley Rivens to cut the lead to one with 2:24 remaining.
Following a UTC timeout, junior Jenaya Wade-Fray dribbled to the foul line and suddenly had nowhere to go with the ball, so she passed it out to junior Tagan Hatchett, who hit a long 3 for her only points of the game.
"I actually thought there was a little less time on the shot clock than there was, which is why I shot it (from well behind the line)," said Hatchett, who had five assists. "I'm just glad it went in, because I hadn't hit anything else."
GSU came up empty on its next possession, and senior LaCondra Mason hit a pair of free throws to put UTC up 52-46 with 1:15 to play. Melson then quickly drove and scored to keep the Eagles within reach.
The Lady Mocs' next possession might have summed up the game. Mason shot an airball with less than 10 seconds left on the shot clock, but junior Shanara Hollinquest grabbed the rebound and managed to pass the ball to Wade-Fray in the left corner before stepping out of bounds. Wade-Fray, who led UTC with 15 points, stepped behind the 3-point line and buried a jumper just before the shot clock expired to push the lead to 55-48 with 35 seconds left.
"The good news is, I guess, when we had to, we hit some shots," UTC coach Wes Moore said.
Hollinquest finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds, but GSU's double-teaming defense held her in check for much of the game. Eagles coach Rusty Cram said his team did what he wanted defensively; the deciding factor, he said, was free throws - UTC was 25-for-36 at the line and Georgia Southern was 11-for-18.
"This was not a 10-point game, and everybody in the gym tonight knows that," Cram said. "I thought we helped make the game ugly (because) if you let UTC get in a rhythm, you're in for a long night.
"I thought our defense put us in a position to pull it out toward the end. I thought the difference in the game was free throws. They shoot 36 free throws - how do you compete against that?"
Melson had17 points and 10 rebounds for GSU, which had snapped UTC's 27-game SoCon win streak with a 66-65 victory Jan. 3 in Statesboro.
Georgia Southern shot 8-for-12 from 3-point range that night. Saturday, the Eagles hit just 3 of 20 3s, though the Lady Mocs were little better, going 5-for-24.