The evening began with one University of Tennessee at Chattanooga freshman women's basketball player, Moses Johnson, belting out a stirring rendition of the national anthem before the Mocs' game against UAB.
After the tipoff, another freshman, Chelsey Shumpert, announced her presence in a different way, scoring 12 points -- the first points of her career -- in the Mocs' 63-56 win over the Blazers on Thursday night at McKenzie Arena.
"She just played like she's been practicing," UTC coach Jim Foster said.
UTC (3-1) was comfortably ahead for a while in the second half, with a lead that reached 17 points, but UAB (2-3) didn't go down quietly. Then it was seniors Ashlen Dewart and Taylor Hall who made big plays down the stretch, getting rebounds at both ends and knocking down shots to preserve the program's 29th straight win in the Roundhouse.
Hall had her first double-double of the season with 10 points and 10 rebounds, along with a career-high seven assists, and Dewart finished with 10 points and four rebounds.
Starting point guard Alicia Payne got in foul trouble in both halves, and Shumpert, looking calm and confident, came in off the bench to spark the offense.
"If I would have gotten nervous, I wouldn't have been able to do what I did," she said after finishing with 12 points and four rebounds, going 5-for-7 from the field.
The 5-foot-4 Shumpert had appeared in one game before Thursday but hadn't scored. She changed that quickly, hitting her first collegiate field-goal attempt, a 3-pointer, to tie the game at 12 with 8:19 left in the first half.
Shumpert had 10 points in the first half, helping UTC to a 30-20 advantage at the break.
"I'm so proud of her," Dewart said. "She really stepped up. We were not doing well as a team and some of us were hanging our heads, and Chelsey came in not nervous at all and just knocked down her shots, took good shots, was very smart and moved the ball well.
"She really stepped up, and I think she showed that she has a lot to offer."
Shumpert wasn't the only spark. Junior wing Ka'Vonne Towns came in and scored seven points and grabbed three rebounds in her first eight minutes of action. The energetic and athletic 5-11 wing matched Shumpert with 12 points while adding five rebounds and three steals.
UTC is back in action at McKenzie on Sunday against Auburn, the Mocs' last home game until Jan. 4.
Contact John Frierson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6268. Follow him at twitter.com/MocsBeat.