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UTC's Chuck Ester dribbles up the court as ETSU's Lester Wilson trails the play during Monday's Southern Conference championship game in Asheville, N.C. Ester finished with eight points and five rebounds as the Mocs beat the Bucs 73-67.

UTC 73, ETSU 67

SoCon Tournament Championship
EAST TENNESSEE (23-11)
Banks 1-1 0-0 2, Cromer 5-13 1-2 13, McClain 0-2 0-0 0, Guyn 4-11 1-2 11, Bello 3-7 1-4 9, Jurkin 2-4 0-0 4, Bradford 6-13 1-1 14, Merriweather 3-5 1-2 7, Wilson 2-6 1-2 7. Totals 26-62 6-13 67.

UTC (29-5)
Ester 3-7 1-1 8, Tuoyo 3-6 2-2 8, Pryor 3-10 7-10 13, Robertson 2-4 6-6 12, McLean 4-10 4-6 13, Oldham 2-4 4-4 9, Burroughs-Cook 2-5 2-2 7, Ethridge 1-4 0-0 3. Totals 20-50 26-31 73.

Halftime—UTC, 38-26. 3-point goals—ETSU 9-26 (Bello 2-2, Wilson 2-5, Guyn 2-6, Cromer 2-8, Bradford 1-4, McClain 0-1); UTC 7-21 (Robertson 2-3, Burroughs-Cook 1-1, Oldham 1-2, Ethridge 1-3, Ester 1-4, McLean 1-4, Pryor 0-4). Rebounds—ETSU 33 (Wilson 5); UTC 37 (Oldham 9). Assists—ETSU 12 (Bradford 6); UTC 11 (Pryor 3, McLean 3). Turnovers—ETSU 6 (Guyn 2); UTC 12 (McLean 4). Blocks—ETSU none; UTC 5 (Tuoyo 4). Steals—ETSU 5 (Cromer 2, Bello 2); UTC 3 (Pryor 2). Total fouls—ETSU 25, UTC 16. Fouled out—Guyn, Bello. A—3,058.

AUTOMATIC BIDS

Austin Peay, Ohio Valley Conference
Florida Gulf Coast, Atlantic Sun Conference
Iona, Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference
Northern Iowa, Missouri Valley Conference
UNC Asheville, Big South Conference
UNC Wilmington, Colonial Athletic Association
UTC, Southern Conference
Yale, Ivy League

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — As has been the case for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men's basketball team all season, the biggest moments have never been too big.

The teams perceived to give the biggest challenges to the Mocs all season in Southern Conference play, they've defeated.

Monday was no exception, and because of that, UTC will be dancing.

The Mocs (29-5) made the plays that East Tennessee State University didn't make, hitting free throws and executing when they had to, and defeated the Buccaneers 73-67 to advance to their first NCAA tournament since 2009.

It's the first time the Mocs have won a SoCon tournament championship away from Chattanooga since 1997, as their last two titles were claimed when the event was played in McKenzie Arena.

"Being a senior, with this being my last year, this is a great feeling," UTC guard Eric Robertson said. "It's been four long, hard years here, and to get this win in my last season, it's awesome, man.

"It's awesome."

Greg Pryor was named the tournament's most outstanding player, finishing with 13 points, six rebounds and three assists for the Mocs. Tre' McLean matched Pryor's scoring, while Eric Robertson added 12 points with 6-for-6 free-throw shooting.

"This is something we worked for, for three years now," Pryor said. "The hard work has paid off because we've got the feeling of a championship. We've been supposed to be in this position for three years, but this time we made our mind up to get it done.

"We were going to take it one game at a time; we've come too far to let it go."

It is UTC's third win against ETSU this season.

The Mocs shot 26-for-31 from the foul line, attacking throughout. ETSU (23-11) was 6-for-13 and missed some key free throws down the stretch.

The Mocs had a 10-0 early in the game and led 38-26 at the break, but the Bucs rallied in the second half, trimming the lead to one on a short jumper by A.J. Merriweather with 11:09 to play, but UTC made just enough shots down the stretch — free throws, mainly — to hold off the Bucs for the win.

That was as close as the Bucs would get.

UTC seemed to have an answer for every run. McLean and Chuck Ester scored on drives to push the lead back to 5. After ETSU climbed back to within two, McLean hit a long 3-pointer to push the lead back to five once again.

The momentum swung for good with 4:06 left in the game when T.J. Cromer was whistled for a technical foul after arguing that he was fouled on a 3-point shot. First-year coach Steve Forbes then joined in the argument and he was called for a T, too.

Pryor made 3 of 4 foul shots for a 65-57 lead and East Tennessee State never challenged again.

The Mocs shot 18-for-22 from the free-throw line in the second half, making up for a 7-for-22 shooting performance from the field in the final 20 minutes. ETSU made 46 percent of its shots in the second half and 42 percent for the game.

"ETSU is a terrific team," UTC coach Matt McCall said. "We knew they would make a run: They have such terrific talent and shot-making ability on the floor, so we knew they'd make a run. How would we respond?"

As his team had done all season long, the Mocs responded.

Desonta Bradford led ETSU with 14 points and six assists. Cromer added 13 points, while Ge'Lawn Guyn scored 11.

The win marks the first time the same men's and women's teams from the SoCon will be represented in the NCAA. The Lady Mocs won their tournament Sunday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenleytfp.

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