Chattanooga Mocs aim for the top

Chattanooga Mocs aim for the top

March 4th, 2013 by David Uchiyama in Sports - College

UTC men's basketball coach John Shulman.

UTC men's basketball coach John Shulman.

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

John Shulman said he heard Appalachian State players screaming, "Three more to the top!" following ASU's 86-60 beatdown on Shulman's University of Tennessee at Chattanooga team on Saturday.

The top is a Southern Conference championship and a date in March Madness.

The ASU players understood what they accomplished Saturday in the Holmes Convocation Center by whipping UTC 86-60. They earned a first-round bye in the Southern Conference tournament.

"If we would have won that game, I don't think we would have run down the hall screaming," Shulman said. "Our guys would have been really happy, but they wouldn't be talking about the bye because they don't fully comprehend the bye."

No SoCon team has won the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament without having the first day off. That's a fact.

"It was good for them to see what a big game feels like, because they don't understand it," Shulman said. I don't know if there's anybody else in the league who's played in an NCAA tournament game other than Davidson guys. Maybe there's a Wofford walk-on."

Wofford won the SoCon tournament in 2010 and 2011, and Davidson won the title last year. In the last 10 years, only Davidson, Wofford and UTC have represented the SoCon in the NCAA men's tournament.

"You don't understand the unknown until you go," Shulman said. "We have to get prepared for the excitement of the tournament."

The Mocs (13-18, 8-10) earned the No. 7 seed and will face No. 10 seed UNC Greensboro (8-21, 6-12) on Friday at 6 p.m. in the U.S. Cellular Center.

The UTC postseason unofficially began Thursday when the Mocs needed to win at Western Carolina. They did. And that kept hope alive that UTC could earn the bye with a win and some help.

Then the Mocs were walloped.

ASU took a 20-point lead UTC in the first half Saturday. The lead stretched to 34 points on two occasions as the Mocs struggled.

The new season, what Shulman called the final chapter, began with a day off Sunday and will resume with practice today to prepare for the Spartans on Friday.

"We have to get focused and know what we exactly have in front of us," freshman Gee McGhee said. "We want to do something special. The bye isn't a problem. Western didn't have a bye last year."

True. Western Carolina won three SoCon tournament games, then fell to Davidson in double-overtime last year. But the accomplishment of winning four games in four days has not been accomplished in the SoCon tournament.

Yet a UTC captain claims they'll be ready.

"Everybody on the team has been in a tournament-like setting before," sophomore captain Ronrico White said. "It's the end of the season. We know what we need."