Defense vital to UTC men in win at Tennessee Tech

Staff photo by Olivia Ross / UTC's Dalvin White (10) guards Lipscomb's Will Pruitt during a Nov. 23 game at McKenzie Arena. Defense was a big factor for White and the Mocs in Wednesday night's win at Tennessee Tech.


The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men's basketball team scored 81 points Wednesday night at Tennessee Tech.

But make no mistake about it: The Mocs' second consecutive win was earned primarily on the defensive end.

The Golden Eagles shot 7-for-9 from 3-point range while building an 11-point halftime advantage, but the Mocs limited their hosts to just one 3 in the final 20 minutes and pulled away for an 81-74 victory in Cookeville to improve to 4-3.

Tennessee Tech (3-4) shot 31% overall in the second half after connecting on 55% of its first-half attempts.

"I think it shows a bit of intestinal fortitude or grit or fight to come back in the second half and play much better defensively, but offensively as well," UTC coach Dan Earl said on a postgame Zoom session.

"I give a ton of credit to Tennessee Tech; this was a scary game, because they do some really good things. They have four guys that are shooting 40% or better from 3, and they just spread us out and were driving us. They were having their way in the first half, so for us to kind of respond from an interesting discussion shows some grit and toughness, and I'm proud of the guys for the response."

Jake Stephens, the Southern Conference player of the week twice already this season, was his usual self with 27 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and two blocks, but the Mocs again found scoring beyond the 7-foot graduate transfer, this time from point guard Dalvin White, who was 5-for-6 from 3-point range and finished with 17 points. In Saturday's win over Murray State, Jamal Johnson had 13 and Demetrius Davis 10, with each making some key shots in the second half.

Playing through Stephens, who scored 20 after intermission to post his second straight game with at least that many points in a half, the Mocs shot 80% in the second half, going 12-of-15 overall and 7-of-9 behind the arc. They were 16-of-20 on free throws and overcame not making a field goal in the final 6:10.

"Coach Earl really wasn't proud of our first-half defense, so we made an emphasis on it in the second half to play a little bit harder, just focus more on pressure and getting stops," White said. "We tried to focus more on the defensive end, because we know once we get that, the offense will click. Once we get a little momentum there, then we'll have a little bit more rhythm on the offensive end."

Compiled by Gene Henley. Contact him at ghenley@timesfreepress.com.