The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga will play basketball Thursday at Western Carolina without power forward Chris Early. His one-game suspension was upheld Monday by Southern Conference commissioner John Iamarino.
Reserves Jahmal Burroughs and Jeff Smith likely will receive a bulk of what would have been Early's playing time.
"This is a one-game deal," Mocs coach John Shulman said. "We'll be prepared, and we'll rally and play our tail ends off.
"You think Western feels bad for us? Nope. We have to move on without him for a game."
Early, the SoCon's sixth-leading rebounder, will not play because rule 9.2 in the league's basketball regulations states that if a player is ejected from a game, he must sit out the team's next contest.
Referees gave Early a flagrant foul and ejected him in the second half of UTC's 73-59 loss at Davidson on Saturday. Shulman felt it wasn't a flagrant offense.
"We have a major piece of our team missing going into the biggest game of the season," Shulman said. "That wasn't a dirty play."
Video of the play from a midcourt TV camera angle shows Early attempting to box out Jake Cohen for a rebound with his left arm. His elbow is extended high and connects with Cohen's neck or upper chest.
Shulman and UTC athletic director Rick Hart appealed to Iamarino. The commissioner reviewed the play, spoke with several individuals involved and upheld the suspension.
"The key fact is that he hit him above the shoulders," Iamarino said. "I wouldn't characterize what I saw as 'sizing up,' which gives the indication that it's premeditated. I didn't see that at all. He made an unfortunate move.
"None of the reports indicate there was anything going on earlier between the two players or that this was in retaliation."
Early is averaging 6.3 rebounds and 9.1 points per game.
"You just can't hit anybody above the shoulders these days, especially with the emphasis on concussions," Iamarino said. "It's something that we look out for in all sports -- football, baseball, basketball, soccer."
Early likely will join UTC on the trip to WCU because it continues with a Saturday game at Appalachian State, where he will make his return.
"We support the league office, I support [Iamarino's] decision -- I don't have to agree with it -- and we'll abide by the decision and go on with it," Shulman said. "I'm disappointed. I didn't think Chris's actions warrant a suspension. He did not take a cheap shot.
"There were more physical plays than that play."
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