Matt McCall has looked forward to this evening for a week.
Tonight's game for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men's basketball coach will provide some interesting opportunities.
An opportunity for the first-year coach to see his team play at McKenzie Arena for the second official time this season and for the first time in 22 days.facebook
An opportunity to get back on the right track after a dismal performance at Lousiana-Monroe on Nov. 30.
And an opportunity to see how the Mocs perform in their second game without a key player.
Center Justin Tuoyo will be out again tonight when the Mocs (5-2) host NAIA member Tennessee Wesleyan at 7. Tuoyo had a concussion against Jacksonville State in the final of the Emerald Coast Classic and hasn't fully passed the protocol to play.
The Athens-based Bulldogs (6-1) have six players from the Chattanooga area on their roster, including senior Trey Suttles, a former Tyner star who is averaging 16 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game and Central's Tre Tiller, a freshman averaging 6.9 points per game.
"The big thing we've worked on this week is building good habits," McCall said. "We need to build good habits because when the lights come on in January, February and March, the team with the best habits will win. Bad habits cost us against Louisiana-Monroe, because they caught up to us.
"When there's more tape out there and more time for teams to scout us, they can prepare and take you out of what you do."
McCall said he "hopes" to have the 6-foot-10 reigning Southern Conference defensive player of the year back when UTC plays Saturday in Ohio at Dayton.
Tuoyo's absence will provide opportunities for some other players. Junior Chuck Ester started in his place against the Warhawks and has played well this season. Senior Duke Ethridge will get additional minutes, as could freshman Jackson White, who has shown occasional glimpses in practice.
The team didn't shoot well against ULM and didn't defend well, as lapses in rotation — which sometimes are cleaned up by Tuoyo in the back — led to layups and open shots for the Warhawks.
"Because of his ability, some of our habits don't show up because you can get blown by and understand he's back there to erase it," McCall said. "Tuoyo cleans up a lot of habits with his ability to block shots, but our defensive numbers need to get better because we're not always going to outscore teams and we need to hang our hat on the defensive end."
Junior forward Tre' McLean said Monday that the Mocs look at tonight's game as a chance to get better without their "eraser," as well as a chance for the team to build some momentum heading back into NCAA Division I play.
"We just need some guys to step up. It's an opportunity for some guys who hadn't been there before," McLean said. "We're not going to underestimate Tennessee Wesleyan, but the focus is on us because we do need to get back to the basics. I think we lost some of our focus against ULM.
"We have to get back out, play hard and build some momentum for Dayton."
Contact Gene Henley at email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.