ATLANTA — The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men's basketball team was forced to be one-dimensional on offense Wednesday night, and the result was a 95-88 loss at Georgia State.
Facing the Panthers' tough matchup zone defense, the Mocs (5-6) shot 44 3-point shots, making 17 of them, and were effective enough to keep themselves in contact despite GSU shooting 57 percent from the field and making 25 free throws.
"There were probably five to 10 times that we shot a 3 when I thought we could have shot-faked and attacked the rim," UTC coach Lamont Paris said. "I don't know that I'd say they forced us (to take 3-pointers); I'd say that's what they gave us, and we opted to take that instead of attacking the rim."
The Mocs ran out to a 5-0 lead to start the game on a 3-pointer and a layup by Jerry Johnson Jr. and held the lead for the first seven-plus minutes of the game before GSU went ahead for good.
"We're still getting there about moving the ball more, and sometimes it gets stuck with us," said junior Jonathan Scott, who scored 17 points for UTC and made five of his eight 3-point shots. "That's been something we've been working on in our practices every day. Just keeping it moving is the focus for us."
Redshirt sophomore David Jean-Baptiste led UTC in scoring with 19 points and was one of five Mocs in double figures along with Scott, Kevin Easley with 15, Johnson with 14 and A.J. Caldwell with 11. Johnson cooled off after his hot start and was just 4-of-13 shooting for the game, and the Mocs were held to 44.3 percent shooting from the field and took only 14 free throws.
"They scouted us pretty well, because the last game against VMI we got the ball inside at our own pace any time we wanted," Easley said. "And it was hard to get the ball inside in this game, so it forced us into a lot of tough 3s."
The Panthers (7-3) had another big night out of D'Marcus Simonds, who scored 24 points despite foul trouble, and Kane Williams and Devin Mitchell added 17 each in the win.
GSU was able to get players behind the Mocs' defense, resulting in easy shots and 25 made free throws on 35 tries.
"My frustrations did not lie with how hard we competed or how we went about our business," Paris said. "It was more about just some rules that we have that we violated that have nothing to do with how quick a guy is or how strong he is. We violated our rules, and almost every single time it wound up yielding a good situation for them.
"We have to correct that, and it wasn't like we had a ton of those. But we had enough."
The Mocs did get a boost to their bench from Ramon Vila, a redshirt sophomore transfer from Arizona State, who became eligible after the end of UTC's fall semester this week. The Spanish national showed some rust early, but he had some success as well with six points and six rebounds and was helpful with UTC still missing Maurice Commander (injury) and Donovann Toatley (suspension) from the lineup.
"Not only is he a really good offensive player, but he provides a good voice on defense," Scott said of Vila. "He's a good defender and he's smart. It's always good to have a good defender, because that's the most important thing."
The Panthers looked as if they would pull away at times, but the Mocs kept battling and cut a 14-point deficit to seven with just under six minutes to play and had a few chances to get closer.
"We had a couple of chances to make a run," Paris said. "We had it at eight and had two pretty good looks. They weren't wide open, but they were pretty good makeable looks that could have cut it down to a five-point game with five minutes left on the clock. If that happens, then anything could have happened.
"And it never comes down to one shot, but something that small could change the whole complexion of the game."
Even in the final minute, the Mocs kept fighting, cutting GSU's 16-point lead with 1:10 to play to the final margin with a 12-3 run in the final 70 seconds of the game.
The Mocs play again Sunday at Ole Miss. Despite the loss, facing Georgia State could be good preparation, as the Panthers already have wins over SEC members Georgia and Alabama this season.
"It's great that we could compete with a team like (Georgia State), so that gives us a lot of confidence," Easley said. "Our confidence is already up. We came into tonight believing we could beat this team. We've just got to have the same mindset (at Ole Miss). They put their shorts on just like we put our shorts on."
Contact Jim Tanner at JFTanner@gmail.com. Follow him at twitter.com/JFTanner.