MVP - Zaccheus Mason, UTC
Ronrico White, UTC
Holton Hunsaker, Utah Valley
Nick Thompson, Utah Valley
Anthony Campbell, Austin Peay
John Brown, High Point
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga earned the trophy it bought itself.
The Mocs topped Utah Valley 76-69 to win its second straight Dr Pepper Classic over the Wolverines and claim the team title for the 15th time out of 23 tournaments.
"We're leaving here feeling pretty good about ourselves for a team that hadn't felt real good about themselves all year," said UTC coach John Shulman, who has won four of the last five Dr Pepper Classics. "We have momentum and we got some belief. Belief is pretty important."
Junior forward Zaccheus Mason earned tournament MVP honors by scoring a career-high 26 points and tying his career best with 13 rebounds. Guard Ronrico White joined Mason on the all-tournament team and scored 11 points.
Freshman guard Gee McGhee scored 11 points and grabbed nine rebounds for UTC (5-8), which has won three straight games.
"It feels so good," said Mason, who will his display his all-tournament plaque in his room. "There's a different atmosphere in the locker room. We felt good last night, but we knew we had another one coming."
The Wolverines were led by all-tournament Holton Hunsaker, who set a career high with 37 points featuring 8-for-15 3-point shooting. Alfonzo Hubbard added 12 points for Utah Valley (7-9), which also was represented by Nick Thompson on the all-tournament team.
"Like I told them in a timeout, I'm having fun coaching our team," Shulman said. "I can't say that every year. You have a lot of neat stuff going on out there."
The Mocs had two three-game winning streaks last year. The first came at the same time as this one, just before Christmas and in the Dr Pepper. The second such streak came with three straight wins to open the January string of Southern Conference games.
"We made more winning plays," Shulman said. "We'll clip this tape and show them winning plays. We'll watch it Monday."
Shulman made a deal with the captains before Friday's game. If UTC won the tournament, the players could have today off, not even a film session.
Mason and White both said they'd relax and enjoy the emotion of earning the tournament championship.
UTC owned the lead for much of the first half, but an 11-2 run gave Utah Valley a 22-18 lead with less than eight minutes to go in the period.
Then the UTC reserves sparked a 12-1 run with Alex Bran and Eric Robertson hitting 3s in that stretch. Also during that period, UTC forced UVU into six turnovers on seven possessions.
With 20 points in the paint, four free throws and two 3s, the Mocs owned a 30-27 lead at halftime. McGhee and fellow freshman Farad Cobb were the only Mocs who did not score before the break. The rebounding edge fell in favor of UTC, 24-15, leading to 10 second-chance points in the first half.
"I was thrilled at half," said Shulman, whose team went on to out-rebound UVU 48-33. "I thought we played really good in the first half."
UTC inched out to a 40-35 lead less than five minutes into the second half. But UVU rallied and took a 52-49 lead. Mason put the Mocs up 55-53 lead on a turnaround baseline jump shot with eight minutes to play, setting up UTC's most dramatic finish of the season.
A 3- by White from the right wing tied the Mocs' largest lead of the game and put them ahead 65-58 with five minutes to play. Taylor Brown hit a 3 to get UVU within 67-64 within 2:01 on the clock.
The Mocs closed the game with Mason and McGee combining to make 11 of 14 free throws. And Mason stuffed UVU's final shot, a layup attempt by Hunsaker.
"We know who we are and we know what we need to do to get a victory," said White, who played all three guard positions for a second night. "The [holiday break] really helped us. We got away from each other and we came back with a close mindset."