For the first time all season University of Tennessee at Chattanooga coach Will Wade had every player healthy and available to play in a game.
He swapped out Lance Stokes for Martynas Bareika in the starting lineup.
Stokes and the rest of UTC's bench responded by contributing 30 points in a 69-64 win over Grand Canyon on the first night of the 24th annual Dr Pepper Classic in McKenzie Arena.
"They brought us energy, and that's what we needed," said senior Zaccheus Mason who returned after missing two games with an injured big toe. "They brought a lot of help for us offensively and defensively and gave us that extra push when we were kind of stagnant."
The Mocs (5-8) will face Maine (2-9) which knocked off Middle Tennessee State 89-85 in overtime on Sunday. UTC could win its 15th Dr Pepper Classic tonight starting at 7 p.m.
"We have to guard the 3-point line," Wade said. "I saw parts of the game. They have bigger, longer guards. They do a good job of sharing the ball. They change their defenses, and we have to be ready for that."
The Mocs were ready for the Antelopes who had seven players play after coach Dan Majerle dismissed two players -- including leading scorer Demetrius Walker -- and suspended another earlier on the weekend.
Killian Larson led the Antelopes with 22 points and 13 rebounds. Jerome Garrison added 13 points and Daniel Alexander added 12 points and 10 rebounds for the 'Lopes who stayed within at least 10 points the entire second half.
"We had a couple opportunities to blow the game open," Wade said. "We had a lot of 3s go in and out on us. We had some misses in transition."
Mason led the Mocs with 16 points and 11 rebounds in his first game since Dec. 10 against Hiwassee. Ronrico White scored a season-high 11 points in his fourth game back from offseason hip surgery. Bareika and Stokes each added 10 points for the Mocs who won their second game against a Division I opponent. GCU is in its first year at the Division I level and plays in the Western Athletic Conference.
"We were off to a pretty good start, and for us to come in off the bench and not let up is tremendous for us," White said. "It feels good to be out there with Z. He's another old-head out there."
Mason opened the game with three straight baskets and UTC scored on nine of its first 11 possessions to take a 19-8 lead less than eight minutes into the game. The Mocs pushed that lead to 13 points with 9:56 to go in the first half. But GCU (5-7) pulled within 36-32 at halftime.
"It's great having [Mason] back out there," Wade said. "We ran the first couple of plays for him."
UTC inched out to a 45-38 lead about five minutes into the second half. But GCU went on a 9-0 run to take its first lead of the game at 47-45. It led 49-48 before UTC went on a 9-2 run to regain control of the game with 8:24 to play.
"We went down two, and we didn't panic," Wade said. "We held our gloves up and didn't fall down from the count."
UTC led 67-59 with 94 seconds to play. But White missed the front end-of a one-and-one, GCU scored three, the Mocs turned it over and GCU scored two more. Then Greg Pryor missed the front end of a one-and bonus giving GCU the ball down three points.
Garrison rose from behind the 3-point line with nine seconds to play. Instead of shooting, he passed the ball to his left. Nobody was there to catch it except teammates on the bench.
"Coach Wade has been preaching that we have to keep our gloves up," White said. "We knew that they were going to make their run. They did. We had to respond. And we did."
Contact David Uchiyama at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6484. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.