Chattanooga Mocs struggling with limited margin for error

Chattanooga Mocs struggling with limited margin for error

February 22nd, 2014 by David Uchiyama in Sports - College

UTC's Zaccheus Mason heads past Georgia Southern's Marvin Baynham Jr. at McKenzie Arena in Chattanooga Thursday, Feb 20, 2014.

Photo by Angela Lewis/Times Free Press.

Will Wade said it before his first game as the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men's basketball coach.

And he's repeated the point several times throughout the season -- before and after games, including Thursday.

The Mocs have little margin for error.

They're not talented enough to tip the ball in the air and just play 40 minutes of basketball against comparable competition at their leisure and expect to win. They need to pay attention to the details, follow the scouting report and win 50-50 balls -- or "80-20" balls, as junior guard Ronrico White has called them, because they're that important to the Mocs.

UTC played outside the necessary margins after the first 10 minutes in Thursday's Southern Conference game and wound up losing 77-61 to Georgia Southern, which hadn't beat a team with a winning record all season until they toppled the Mocs (16-12, 10-3).

"They got all the loose balls. They killed us. They out-rebounded us by seven," said senior Zaccheus Mason, who led UTC with 21 points and seven rebounds, then spent about 30 minutes after the game with a group of sixth-graders from Christ Presbyterian Academy, where he went to high school -- complete in neon "Zuperman" T-shirts with the "S" from the Superman logo replaced with a "Z" on his behalf.

"All the small things that are a part of the game, they beat us," he said. "They beat us to it."

The demon is in the details.

Wade pointed out one small play that went unnoticed to the announced crowd of 3,743 -- a play that helped the Eagles surge from a 12-point deficit with 5:23 to go in the first half.

UTC played its base 2-3 defense and GSU set a screen to get SoCon leading scorer Jelani Hewitt a 3-point shot. A UTC defender went under the screen, which gave Hewitt a clean look. He buried it, turning a seven-point deficit into four.

Hewitt hit a 3-pointer on GSU's next trip and closed the half with another long shot just before the buzzer. He scored nine points in the final 2:06 of the first half after scoring five in the first 18 minutes of the game.

"You can't give players like that a clean look to get them in rhythm," Wade said. "We worked all week about never going under the ball-screen -- but we did and he drills a 3 and gets his confidence.

"Our players have to understand that every little detail like that matters. You have to make your own luck and make your own breaks."

UTC (16-12, 10-3) can't do that by coloring outside of the lines. The Mocs stayed within their margins for 10 straight wins, including eight straight to start the SoCon season, but they have lost four of their last six games -- including one at Eastern Kentucky of the Ohio Valley Conference -- because they strayed from what makes them successful.

"We didn't do the little things that we have to do to be successful and win," Wade said. "Our margins are small."

Allowing GSU to shoot 52.5 percent, out-rebound the Mocs by seven and outscore them 40-20 in the paint are statistics not conducive to a UTC victory.

"I was talking with our sports psychologist today and he tells about three steps forward and one step back," Wade said after the loss. "We try to guard against that step back.

"We took a huge step back."

The next step -- forward, backward or sideways -- comes Sunday at 2 p.m. in the Greensboro Coliseum against UNCG.

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