UTC Mocs seeking to rediscover winning formula

UTC Mocs seeking to rediscover winning formula

February 4th, 2012 by David Uchiyama in Sports - College

ASHEVILLE, N.C. -- John Shulman remembers Frank's Roman Pizza from his time as an assistant coach at East Tennessee State when the Bucs twice won the SoCon tournament championship.

It's clear that Shulman and his Mocs will arrive in Asheville for the Southern Conference tournament one day earlier than expected when the season began.

The preseason favorites are already planning for four days in March even though the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga has not been mathematically eliminated from earning a bye from the SoCon North Division.

"I want to win a little more now," junior Dontay Hampton said via cell phone. "It feels like it's been forever."

Following an 82-76 loss at Western Carolina on Thursday, the Mocs are in last place and four games behind Elon and UNC Greensboro with seven games to play -- one against each of the division leaders.

"Yeah, we're frustrated and want to win," senior point guard Keegan Bell said in a phone interview. "We've said that if we have to change history, then we will."

By that he means becoming the first SoCon team to win four SoCon tournament games in four days to reach the NCAA tournament. It hasn't happened since the SoCon switched to a four-round format in 1993.

The realization has come much more slowly than quickly. UTC (9-15-3-8 SoCon) started he SoCon season 0-2 in December. Then it rebounded with three straight wins to open begin the SoCon season stretch.

But four, five, and now six straight losses have followed.

A seventh straight is likely today at Davidson (16-5, 10-1) when the Mocs face them at 4 in Belk Arena. The odds-makers in Las Vegas have the Mocs as a 15.5 point underdog at Davidson, and RealTimeRPI.com is predicting a 10-point loss for UTC to the SoCon's dominant team.

"They're one of the toughest teams," Bell said. "It seems like we played them three days ago, but it also seems like three weeks ago."

It's actually been nine days since Bell tied the their last contest on a 3-pointer with 4.5 seconds to go only to have Nik Cochran hit a free-throw to win the game with 1.2 ticks to tock.

"It's very fresh," said Hampton, who had 10 points against the Wildcats last Thursday and 10 points against WCU on Thursday. "We lost to them at the buzzer, so I remember like it was yesterday. I look forward to playing them again."

The first Davidson game is when the injury bug hit UTC below the belt. Jahmal Burroughs pulled his right hamstring in the first half, and a nagging knee injury to Zaccheus Mason became unbearable. They were limited in the second half last Thursday and haven't played since.

"You can figure things out for a half, and we rallied on Saturday against Georgia Southern with unbelievable effort," Shulman said. "Now it's here to stay for a bit. We're trying to get things figured out with a strange lineup."

Strange became unbelievable on Thursday. Wing Omar Wattad played center. Shooting guard Ricky Taylor played at the 4-spot. Redshirt freshman Martynas Bareika played for the first time since the last four minutes of a blow-out against Longwood.

"I'm not even close to a 4-man," Taylor said. "But if I have to play it again, I will.

"I'll do what I have to."

And that includes playing four games in four days in Asheville -- one of Shulman's favorite cities.

"We won it twice up there," Shulman said, referring to his ETSU tenure. "It's a great venue, a great city."

Asheville has changed a bit since the early '90s when the Bucs staff scarfed pizza after semifinal rounds. Frank Roman's Pizza now has two locations.