Coach Lamont Paris walked out of the McKenzie Arena tunnel Wednesday before the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's men's basketball game against Furman, his eyes looking around. They became focused on the UTC players' seating area, where six were in sweatsuits and unavailable against the 2017 Southern Conference regular-season co-champions for various reasons.
A seventh — freshman James Lewis — was gone due to a family emergency.
Then the coach's eyes moved to the court, where he had eight players warming up for the game.
"You know who's not available," Paris said after the eventual 73-55 loss to the Paladins, the Mocs' fifth straight defeat, "but then you see them all lined up.
"It's an interesting situation. I have never been in (one) quite like that before, but you have to make the most of it, and I think our guys did for the most part. I'm not going to let them off the hook on some things, but overall they played how they needed to play, competed how they needed to compete. The last two things I told the guys before the game were to compete and show effort, and I thought they did that and it gave them a chance throughout most of the game."
The Mocs played Wednesday without junior forward Makinde London (ankle), junior guard Dylan Brewster (lower body) and freshman forwards Lewis (shoulder), Justin Brown (back) and Duane Moss (back). In addition, Fairfield transfer Jerry Johnson and Arizona State transfer Ramon Vila aren't available until next season per NCAA rules.
It wasn't until midway though the second half, with UTC trailing 49-44, that fatigue appeared to set in some. The Mocs went eight consecutive possessions without a field goal and hit only three in the final 12:45, allowing the Paladins to pull away.
Junior Nat Dixon played all 40 minutes — the 14th time this season he's played at least 35 — and joked after the game that he was headed straight to treatment. Late in the second half, point guard Rodney Chatman was signaling to the bench for a sub, the only options being freshman guard-forward Jonathan Bryant and freshman forward A.J. Bowers, who had four fouls.
Makale Foreman played all 40 minutes for the second time this season. Dixon and he rank 1-2 in the conference in minutes played, at 34.5 and 33.5.
"We've got to do what we've got to do until we get some guys back healthy, so whatever we've got to do for the team, it is what it is," Dixon said. "We have to be prepared, go to treatment and prepare for the next game. Recovery is a big part of it, but we're not changing our practice plan. The guys that can play are going to practice, and that's just how it is, so we have to be prepared for it, play as hard as we can, and when we're tired get a break and go back in."
A couple of players could be back soon. London tweaked an ankle on a drive during Tuesday's practice and is considered day-to-day, while Lewis — who hasn't played since his left shoulder injury in the Dec. 23 game against Georgia State — is recovering as well. Their presence certainly would be helpful in Saturday's game against The Citadel, which with its fast-paced attack leads the SoCon and is 19th in the country in scoring at 85.7 points per game.
Practice will be focused more on improving the Mocs than figuring out the Bulldogs.
"I worry about us," Paris said Wednesday night. "Our team is the most important team out of the two-team equation — our team is most important — so I want to have us playing as well as we can and eliminate things we can control as best as we can.
"Tonight we stuck to the script for the most part, and I'm happy about that."
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @genehenleytfp.