UTC men avenge loss to UNCG with 44-point turnaround on road

Staff file photo by Matt Hamilton / UTC's Trey Bonham, left, racked up 31 points, seven assists and four steals during an 89-61 win at UNC Greensboro on Saturday.
Staff file photo by Matt Hamilton / UTC's Trey Bonham, left, racked up 31 points, seven assists and four steals during an 89-61 win at UNC Greensboro on Saturday.

A month after a double-digit home loss to UNC Greensboro, a week after being unable to avoid a regular-season sweep at Samford's hands and less than 48 hours after needing a late surge to prevent an upset at Virginia Military Institute, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men's basketball team showed a much different side.

Putting together quite possibly their best 40-minute performance of the season, the Mocs dominated at UNC Greensboro, winning 89-61 on Saturday to move into second place in the Southern Conference standings with three weeks remaining in the regular season.

The Mocs (17-8, 9-3), who have won seven of eight games since a 70-54 loss to UNCG on Jan. 13 at McKenzie Arena with CBS Sports Network televising the matchup, are home for their next game, facing rival East Tennessee State (13-12, 5-7) at 7 p.m. Wednesday. They're back on CBSSN the game after that, visiting Furman at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 18.

After the Mocs' first meeting with UNCG (17-8, 8-4), UTC coach Dan Earl mentioned how he felt his team "wasn't nearly tough enough" against the Spartans. Saturday in North Carolina, that was clearly a point of emphasis, as the Mocs — particularly junior guard Trey Bonham — were aggressive in getting to the basket on offense and not settling. That allowed UTC to be solid defensively, with the Spartans making 13 3-pointers but shooting 6-for-22 (27.2%) inside the arc.

The result was a 44-point turnaround on the scoreboard.

Bonham, who joined the Mocs as a two-time transfer before the season and made his debut against Alabama on Dec. 16, had perhaps his best game for UTC. In addition to 31 points on 10-of-16 shooting, he had seven assists and four steals to just one turnover in 33 minutes. He was 4-for-7 from 3-point range and made all seven of his free throws as the Mocs went 10-for-12 at the line against the Spartans.

"They get into you. They bullied us in the first game," Bonham said. "They've got good defensive guards, so you can't play east and west, you've got to play north and south. So it's being aggressive and being decisive when I did get down in the paint."

Bonham had plenty of help as the Mocs shot a blistering 59% (32-of-54) from the field while making 15 3-pointers on 27 attempts (55.6%). Honor Huff hit six of those 3s and finished with 19 points, while freshman guard Myles Che returned from missing a game due to injury and had 14 points and three assists. Jan Zidek had 11 points and Sam Alexis chipped in eight with a team-high six rebounds.

"We shared the ball as well as we have all season," Bonham said. "Everybody was getting their shots, and that was a big part of this win. It's the best game of the year. They caught us by surprise the first time we played them, and we had better preparation for them this time around."

UNCG had a trio of scorers in double figures as Mikeal Brown-Jones totaled 25 points, Keyshaun Langley 12 and Donovan Atwell 11, but the Spartans trailed for the final 36:12 of game clock and were down by as many as 29 points in the second half.

"I thought this was as locked in on both sides of the ball as we've been all year," Earl said on the postgame radio broadcast. "Our whole team did a really good job communicating on defense. We're training them in the appropriate ways as much as possible, and (that) really kind of contributed to the win.

"We did kind of test our guys a little bit, and I thought our guys responded to the challenge."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com.

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