Mocs hold off VMI, win SoCon championship outright

Mocs hold off VMI, win SoCon championship outright

March 1st, 2016 by Gene Henley in Sports - College

UTC's Tre' McLean looks to pass as the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga hosts Mercer in a men's basketball game on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

UTC 67, VMI 65

UTC (26-5, 15-3 SoCon)
Ester 1-3 0-0 2, Tuoyo 2-10 1-4 5, McLean 4-9 8-11 16, Pryor 3-13 4-6 13, Robertson 1-7 0-0 2, Oldham 4-9 2-5 11, Burroughs-Cook 1-4 0-4 2, Woods 1-2 2-2 5, Ethridge 4-8 3-4 11. Totals 21-65 20-36 67.

VMI (9-20, 4-14)
Anglade 2-3 0-4 4, Weethee 1-5 0-0 2, Peterson 6-17 4-5 21, Marshall 2-8 0-0 6, Eleby 3-5 0-2 8, Vereen 2-4 2-2 7, Rich 3-4 0-0 6, Iruafemi 5-7 1-2 11. Totals 24-53 7-15 65.

Halftime—UTC, 36-35. 3-point goals—UTC 5-18 (Pryor 3-6, Woods 1-2, Oldham 1-3, McLean 0-1, Robertson 0-6); VMI 10-24 (Peterson 5-10, Eleby 2-2, Marshall 2-5, Vereen 1-3, Weethee 0-4). Rebounds—UTC 48 (McLean 12); VMI 37 (Anglade 7, Marshall 7). Assists—UTC 6 (Robertson 3); VMI 11 (Eleby 4). Turnovers—UTC 9 (4 with 2); VMI 16 (Peterson 7). Blocks—UTC 6 (Tuoyo 3); VMI 10 (Iruafemi 7). Steals—UTC 9 (McLean 2, Oldham 2, Ethridge 2); VMI 2 (Anglade, Iruafemi). Total fouls—UTC 14, VMI 21. Fouled out—none. A—1,211.

Work of art? Nope.

Win and mission accomplished? Yes.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men's basketball team struggled at times but used a big second-half run to pull ahead of Virginia Military Institute and held on for a 67-65 win in the final game of the Southern Conference basketball regular season.

The Mocs (26-5, 15-3) claimed their first outright conference championship since 1994 and secured a guaranteed postseason bid regardless of the outcome in the conference tournament, which starts for the women on Thursday and for the men on Friday.

"This was a big, big win," UTC coach Matt McCall said afterward. "These guys deserve it; they've handled their business for the most part for 15 games. They've beat the best teams in the league twice, and Furman once, so they deserve to win it outright. But this chapter is done and it's on to a new one."

UTC's men won't play until noon Saturday against the winner between VMI and Samford — the Mocs' last two opponents.

The Mocs won despite their worst shooting performance of the season, 32 percent. Four UTC players scored in double figures, led by Tre' McLean's 16 points and 12 rebounds. Greg Pryor added 13 points with three key 3-pointers before suffering an ankle injury in the final minutes. Each had 10 of his points in the second half.

"It was all about giving it our all," McLean said. "We knew that the last half was all that we've got for the rest of the regular season, and we had to give it our all to win the SoCon outright.

"We decided that whatever we had going on, we had to block it out for the bigger purpose."

Dee Oldham and Duke Ethridge had 11 points each. Ethridge also had nine rebounds, two blocks and two steals.

The Mocs outrebounded VMI 48-37 and had a season-high 21 offensive rebounds. They trailed by seven in the first half but rallied and held a one-point lead at the break after Justin Tuoyo tipped in a missed free throw at the buzzer.

Until a late spurt spurred by VMI guard Q.J. Peterson, the SoCon's leading scorer, the Mocs had controlled most of the second half. They assumed control by going on a 13-2 run, holding the Keydets without a field goal for 5:06 in turning a five-point deficit into a 55-49 lead. The lead grew to 10 points with 3:21 to play after Ethridge scored inside, but Peterson scored 11 consecutive Keydets points on a pair of 3s, a jump shot and three free throws to cut the UTC lead to 66-65 with 17 seconds to go.

After his free throws, the Mocs turned the ball over, but McLean and Justin Tuoyo forced an airball by Peterson, and Oldham grabbed the rebound with 1.7 seconds to play and made the second of two free throws for the final tally.

"There's a lot to take from tonight," McCall said. "We had a 10-point lead with two minutes to go, but we didn't shoot a high percentage from the free-throw line. We're going to be in these situations a lot this weekend, so we need to work on these things. I look forward to getting back home so we can get some work done."

Peterson had 21 points on 6-for-17 shooting but turned the ball over seven times against the Mocs' pressure and length. Fred Iruafemi had 11 points, six rebounds and seven blocks.

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