Mocs' up-and-down season restarts

Mocs' up-and-down season restarts

March 5th, 2013 by David Uchiyama in Sports - College

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SIX HIGHLIGHTS

Leading at Kansas at halftime

Winning the Dr Pepper Classic

Getting Dontay Hampton back

Historic comeback from 19 down

Playing for a bye on the last day

Not finishing last in the North

SIX LOWLIGHTS

Losing Stokes and Jones to injury

Charleston crushing UTC by 27

Hampton going down for the season

Getting whipped by UNCG at home

Cobb being dismissed from the team

ASU blasting UTC in the last game

It hasn't been boring.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men's basketball season has had several blows to the midsection but several moments to celebrate.

And the season isn't over.

UTC will play in the first round of the Southern Conference tournament Friday at 6 p.m. in the U.S. Cellular Center in Asheville, N.C., against UNC Greensboro.

From here on out, the Mocs (13-18, 8-10) must win or turn in their jerseys to equipment managers.

They have endured a tough nonconference season and a turbulent SoCon season and now stare at the postseason.

"We had a lot of good times during the season, and we had some rough times," junior Zaccheus Mason said. "That's a sign of a young team. At times we struggled a bit, but we learned that we can fight through adversity."

Senior point guard Dontay Hampton tore his ACL in July, forcing sophomore wing Ronrico White to learn the point guard position during the preseason and handle it for the first 15 games of the year.

Freshman Farad Cobb, one of the highest regarded recruits in coach John Shulman's era, eased his way into playing time. He lit up current No. 4 Kansas for 21 points in the second game of the season.

Lance Stokes, a sophomore and first post player off the bench, broke his foot in the third game. Freshman Casey Jones, who started at small forward, broke a bone near his knee in the last game before Christmas. Those were two losses that UTC could not have anticipated.

"We've handled adversity pretty well," White said. "Some of them were really tough."

Then UTC won the Dr Pepper Classic by beating High Point and Austin Peay. The Mocs hung close at Georgia Tech, then started the SoCon season in earnest with three road games -- two wins and an 86-59 thrashing at the College of Charleston.

Hampton injected a little momentum in the following game when he returned. He made it memorable by hitting a 3-pointer in the last minute against Appalachian State to complete a historic comeback. His team trailed by 19 points with 6:36 to go. Hampton's shot tied the game, and UTC won 91-88 in overtime.

But Hampton broke his hand in the final seconds in that game. Yet he played two nights later, a loss to Western Carolina, with a shooting hand so swollen that knuckles weren't visible.

The biggest kick to UTC's gut this season came on Jan. 14 at Elon. Hampton tore his ACL again on the last play before halftime. The Mocs had to continue playing without their leader.

About 48 hours later, UNCG guard Trevis Simpson tied a school record with 41 points in leading his team to a win over the Mocs.

Georgia Southern kicked them again when Eric Ferguson hit a 3-pointer that gave the Eagles a 59-57 win.

Stokes returned to the rotation on Feb. 7, when the Mocs beat The Citadel 89-76. Jones added a little more Cajun flavor to the lineup when he returned on Valentine's Day for the Mocs' thrashing of Furman 83-49.

The Mocs were rolling. Then they had the momentum stall with a 94-64 loss to UNCG in which the Spartans set a school record with 20 made 3-pointers and Nicholas Paulos hitting 10 of them.

Before that game, Shulman dismissed Cobb from the team, leaving UTC with no true point guard and walk-on Alex Bran as White's backup at the point.

In a surprise, UTC played arguably its best game of the season 48 hours later and beat North Division champion Elon 72-68.

The Mocs toppled the top team in the division and headed into the final weekend of the season with a chance to earn a bye. They won, and Samford lost on Thursday, keeping that chance for a bye alive.

"I was pleasantly surprised that on the last day of the season we're battling for a bye," Shulman said. "It's been a crazy year getting to this point and we have gotten better."

But App State whipped UTC 86-60 after leading 55-30 at halftime, crushing UTC's dreams of delaying its first SoCon tourney game until Saturday.

The Mocs will play Friday. Odds are that it won't be boring.