ASHEVILLE, N.C. -- What goes into making a good team or a good player a great team or player? Perhaps it's recognizing the flaws in an outstanding game and working to get even better.
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga post player Jasmine Joyner had a career day Thursday in the 17th-ranked Mocs' 78-44 win over UNC Greensboro in the opening round of the Southern Conference basketball tournament. The sophomore scored a career-best 22 points and added 10 rebounds in just 23 minutes of playing time, but her first comments to the media were about how she needed to improve on her 4-for-12 free-throw shooting.
"It would have been a career night if it wasn't for my free throws," she said. "I couldn't have really done it without my team passing the ball on pick-and-rolls and getting me to spots where I could put it back up. I couldn't have done this without my teammates."
Against the Spartans' full-court press, Joyner was able to get lots of good open looks and putbacks, finishing 9-of-10 from the field, and she blocked four shots to boost her season total to 122. She was joined in double figures by Chelsey Shumpert with 13 points and Destiny Bramblett with 10, and every active player on the UTC roster scored in the win.
UTC (27-3) started fast, scoring the first 10 points of the game with a putback by Joyner and two 3-pointers by Shumpert included, but the Spartans pressure kept the the game fairly close and forced the Mocs into 12 first-half turnovers and 20 for the game.
"Tournament basketball flows a lot of different ways," UTC coach Jim Foster said. "The game is called very differently, and everybody is a little more uptight, I guess. You have to mentally deal with that and work through it, and that's what we did."
"It's the first time out and with (UNCG's) energy, that's what they do. They either turn you over or you're going to get a pretty good opportunity. We got a lot of good opportunities, but we also picked up some turnovers."
UNCG's Shaneese Harris hit a 3-pointer with 7:27 in the half to cut the margin to 19-12, but UTC outscored the Spartans 14-1 to end the half and lead 33-13 at the break. The Spartans shot just 18.5 percent in the first half, and it was the sixth time in the past seven games that the Mocs have held an opponent to 20 points or fewer in the opening half.
The Spartans (6-24) were led by Lucy Mason with 15 points on 7-of-17 shooting.
"Defensively, we controlled their guards," Bramblett said. "(Mason) is an All-SoCon player, and I remember last time (we played) that Jade (Scaife) killed us, so we got her off the boards and kept her contained when we were on defense.
"Then we rebounded the ball pretty well and kept them off the glass."
UTC outrebounded UNCG 44-28, and despite losing the turnover battle the Mocs scored 25 points off turnovers to 16 for the Spartans. While the score was lopsided, Foster said he didn't consider it an easy game.
"They played hard," he said of the Spartans. "The score says (it was an easy win), but their intensity made it hard. We had some opportunities to get some easy baskets, but when we had to execute in the half court we had to move the ball. We weren't scoring quickly in the half court, and we were playing intelligently.
"So from that point of view, I don't view it as an easy game. The fact that we got some easy shots was more a byproduct of how well we handled the pressure. But (UNCG) played hard."
UTC has little time to enjoy the win with an 11 a.m. semifinal matchup today against Furman, which beat Samford 65-54 later Thursday. Foster said his team isn't looking beyond this morning's game, and the Mocs won't be worried about pressure to defend last season's championship.
"We're just thinking about tomorrow. We don't talk in those terms," he said. "We just deal with today, and then we'll deal with tomorrow.
"When you're defending champions, you're not defending anything. They can't come in our locker room and take the trophies away. They're ours. We're just trying to get another one."
Contact Jim Tanner at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6478. Follow him at twitter.com/JFTanner.