CHARLESTON, S.C. - Fresh thoughts and observations from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's 70-65 basketball win Thursday night at The Citadel.
The opening tip
Had the game been in McKenzie Arena in stead of McAlister Fieldhouse, the home crowd would have been wise to chant, "Dontay! Dontay!" at the end of the game.
Dontay Hampton was the star, stud and story Thursday.
And he's the senior captain who coach John Shulman expected to lead this team once last year's group mercifully bowed out of the Southern Conference tournament.
Then a knee injury took Hampton away for the first 15 games of this season, in which UTC went 6-9 with young pups and lost a sixth man in Lance Stokes to a foot injury in the third game.
Hampton willed the team back from a 10-point deficit with 12 minutes to play. UTC had been 0-8 this season when trailing with five minutes left.
The Mocs were down four with 5:31 to go. Then Hampton hit a 3 at the 5:15 mark. UTC allowed a layup. Then Hampton, running the point, hit another 3.
As The Citadel coach Chuck Driesell said, "I don't know that a freshman can have that kind of composure."
And that's the difference of having Hampton on the floor for UTC.
Mocs' chalk talk
Shulman and his staff spent a good part of practice this week installing new offensive sets against a 2-3 zone. The Bulldogs extended the zone further toward midcourt than most teams, which left a soft spot in the middle that Zaccheus Mason exploited. A fresh play called "5-up" got the Mocs some good looks even though Mason went 4-of-11 from the floor.
The Mocs also put in a new play for him to shoot a 3 from the right wing. It has one small wrinkle from another play they ran most of the night.
Shulman called it once. Mason became open. He buried the 3 to pull UTC within two at the 5:51 mark.
That shows a lot of trust in a power forward to sink a 3 in a critical moment.
Drazen Zlovaric shot 6-of-6 from the floor, hit his two free throws and scored 14 points.
But rebounds were elusive, especially against All-SoCon contender Mike Groselle. Shulman stopped Groselle's stepmother after the game and praised the young man.
Earlier, during the game, Shulman barked at Zlovaric: "Draz, rebound the ball! For us to win, you've got to!"
Stats Stat! II
The Mocs went 13-of-14 from the free-throw line Thursday night. They're 26-of-32 in the last two games, which is 81.2 percent. They shot 62.8 percent from the stripe in their first 10 games.
An oddity: The UTC bench won 18-0 over The Citadel's bench.
Point guard Farad Cobb started and will continue to start at point guard. Gee McGhee had four points but drew the defensive assignment against 20-point scorer Matt Van Scyoc, whose last bucket came with more than 12 minutes to play.
McGhee can't take all the credit for that, but Shulman challenged and trusted McGhee to at least slow the hot shooter.
The open floor
Beating The Citadel is rarely any great cause for celebration.
Mason said the Mocs sighed and were relieved in the locker room. They came from 10 points down to win with Hampton leading the way and barely showing any signs of rust from his ACL reconstruction.
Hampton exceeded expectations.
But did he set the bar too high?