Chattanooga Mocs out-hustled by Eagles, 77-61

Chattanooga Mocs out-hustled by Eagles, 77-61

February 21st, 2014 by David Uchiyama in Sports - College

Gee McGhee of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga is sandwiched between Georgia Southern's Marvin Baynham, left, and Jelani Hewitt Thursday at McKenzie Arena.

Photo by Angela Lewis/Times Free Press.

Coach Will Wade turned around and sent a message to the three starters on the bench long after the game had been decided.

That's how you're supposed to do.

Walk-on Alex Bran and freshmen T.J. Williams and Anthanee Doyle -- three of the last four to go in for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men's basketball team -- were fighting for everything in the final five minutes of Georgia Southern's 77-61 Southern Conference win Thursday night in McKenzie Arena.

The sitting starters hadn't been doing the little things -- like 6-foot-1 Bran battling under the glass for a loose offensive rebound -- for most of the first 35 minutes, leading to UTC's humbling.

"They came in and got a couple loose balls and did things we should have been doing the whole game," said senior Zaccheus Mason, who led UTC (16-12, 10-3) with 21 points. "It's an example to everybody on our team that this is what we need to do to win."

Greg Pryor added 10 points as the only other Moc in double figures in UTC's second-lowest-scoring SoCon game of the season.

GSU senior guard Tre Bussey scored 25 points on 11-of-19 shooting, and Jelani Hewitt -- who entered as the SoCon's leading scorer at 20.4 points per game -- scored 24 points. Angel Matias added 14 for the Eagles (12-16, 5-8).

The Eagles hit nine 3-pointers and shot 31-of-59 from the floor. Their attacking style, sometimes with four guards on the floor to combat UTC's press, propelled the Eagles to make 20 of their 22 2-point baskets in the paint.

"What we wanted our guys to do was attack," GSU coach Mark Byington said. "We wanted to get in the paint. What we didn't want to do was break their press, then face their set defense."

The UTC defense wasn't as effective as it was last Friday in a win over Western Carolina or during the 10-game winning streak earlier this season. The Mocs have allowed an average of 85.3 points in their four losses since returning from Christmas break.

"We let them get in a rhythm," junior Ronrico White said. "We allowed them to get open looks. When you give them easy baskets, they're going to get going."

The Mocs were the ones going early Thursday. They forced five turnovers in the first five minute and burst out to a 15-5 lead with Mason scoring seven of those early points.

The rest of the half didn't come so easily for the home team. The Mocs scored two points in the next five minutes and let GSU get within four points. The Eagles played the final eight minutes of the half without making a turnover.

The Eagles closed the half on a 13-2 run -- during which Wade called for time to discuss letting Brian Holmes drive for a layup -- and Hewitt buried a 3-pointer just before the horn sounded.

Wade walked off the court with his team trailing 36-34 on the scoreboard and 20-15 on the glass.

"We let things get away from us at the end of the first half," Wade said. "We should have been up double digits and instead we're down two."

The Eagles opened the second half with a 10-2 spurt -- including a timeout by Wade 90 seconds into the half -- and UTC pulled within seven on two occasions. But UTC never got within one possession of the Eagles, who built a 19-point lead with 5:34 to go, less than a minute after Wade made the wholesale substitutions.

"We got out-hustled to loose balls; we couldn't get any rebounds," Wade said. "We weren't relentless at going to the offensive glass. When things didn't go right we reverted back to old habits that I thought we got rid of.

"It's my fault. I did a poor job of getting them ready tonight."

Contact David Uchiyama at duchiyama@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6484. Follow him at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP