Wade, Mocs players try for first tourney win

Wade, Mocs players try for first tourney win

March 8th, 2014 by David Uchiyama in Sports - College

UTC forward Z. Mason (30) shoots for 2 above Appalachian State forward Tommy Spagnolo during the Mocs' basketball game against the Mountaineers on Saturday, March 1, 2014, at McKenzie Arena.

UTC forward Z. Mason (30) shoots for 2...

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Inches separate where an assistant coach sits and the head coach sits - when he does sit - during a basketball game.

Will Wade bridged that gap that comes with the pressure, control and responsibility of being the leader during the Southern Conference regular season after a career as an assistant coach.

The 31-year-old first-year University of Tennessee at Chattanooga coach guided the Mocs to an 18-13 regular season to a No. 2 seed in the SoCon tournament with a 12-4 league record. He was the media association's coach of the year.

But he hasn't been in that seat for a tournament game.

The Mocs will face seventh-seeded Georgia Southern, which topped Furman 65-50, tonight at 6 at the U.S. Cellular Center in Asheville, N.C.

"I was excited about getting the No. 2 seed until I was told that we don't have anybody on the roster who has won a tournament game," Wade said. "Some of them won't know what we're getting into."

The 12 UTC players eligible to play tonight have combined to play in 12 SoCon tournament games -- all losses. Senior Zaccheus Mason and juniors Ronrico White, Lance Stokes and Martynas Bairiki have each played in two. Sophomores Casey Jones, Alex Bran, Eric Robertson and Gee McGhee played last year.

That's not a lot of experience in the tournament, where every possession matters, each rebound could make a difference, and, obviously, the winner moves on and the loser retreats home, defeated.

"What happens in tournament play is that you get so focused on 'Gotta win,' and that's an avoidance goal," Wade said. "What you have to focus on is the process. I've given the guys three things to focus on that have helped us win most of the year.

"We need to do these three things over the course of the game, and we're not in control of those three things."

Wade, who keeps some coaching secrets between he and the team, wouldn't share the magic trio of focused goals.

But he has shared some of his tournament experiences, both in the Colonial Athletic Association and the NCAA tournament, with his players. He's been looking back to some of those experiences -- and lessons learned from VCU coach Shaka Smart -- throughout the week and applied them as UTC's head coach.

"I'm going to coach like I did during the regular season," Wade said. "No need to change anything. One thing about Shaka is that he had a good way of doing things in tournaments. We're going to mimic a lot of that."

What's that?

"We can focus on how we prepare and get ready, having a good temperament and not feel like the world is caving in," Wade said. "You let them know what goes into winning tournament games, have them buy into that and let the results take care of themselves."

UTC has lost its first tournament game in each of the last three years. Furman knocked out the Mocs in 2011, GSU beat them in 2012 and UNC Greensboro won the first-round game last year.

White, one of two team captains, has learned valuable lessons during his last two losses in the SoCon tournament.

"You have to get a great shot on every possession; you have to hold on to the basketball. That's pretty much every game, but it's heightened in the tournament," White said. "We know other teams have more experience, but we have to do things that we do as Chattanooga to counter their experience.

"We have to make sure we have those Chattanooga aspects with us in Asheville."

UTC assistant coach Casey Long has more SoCon tournament experience than anybody on the bench. He played in 10 SoCon tournament games. His teams went 7-3 in the tournament and won the 2005 championship in McKenzie Arena.

"The atmosphere and the environment change, but the teams don't change," Long said. "You have to go to a different level, but it's not an out-of-body experience. It's basketball."

Only now, it's tournament basketball.

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