Surprising as this may sound, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's 92-61 rout of NAIA member Cumberland University on Tuesday was not without at least one hiccup.
With 54 seconds to play, UTC's Keigan Kerby attempted to inbound the ball following two free throws by teammate Donovann Toatley. That's a no-no. And if it wasn't the most memorable moment of the night for the victors, it did bring the biggest smile to Mocs coach Lamont Paris.
"Kids," a grinning Paris said of his young squad, which features just one returning player — David Jean-Baptiste — from last year's team. "It's amazing the stuff you have to talk to them about. It wasn't all his fault, though. The officials let him stand on the bottom block (closest to the goal). That's where the team not shooting free throws is supposed to stand. That's what threw him off."
It was the only thing the Mocs were a bit off on regarding the final box score, which showed three Mocs scoring in double figures against the previously unbeaten Phoenix (5-1) and three others with eight points apiece.
UTC 7-footer Thomas Smallwood even matched his points (18) with the same number of rebounds to record a double-double. Kevin Easley tied Smallwood for scoring honors, followed by Toatley with 12 and Jean-Baptiste, Jerry Johnson and Justin Brown with eight each.
"That's my best, by far," said Smallwood, a native of France who transferred in over the summer from Alabama-Birmingham to enjoy a graduate transfer season with the Mocs.
After seeing his team surprise Charlotte on the road (80-69) before losing a close one at home on Saturday to Eastern Kentucky (81-78), Paris seems to be pleased overall with UTC's development after three games.
"I'm extremely happy to coach these guys," he said. "They don't always like what I say to them, but I like who they are as people and citizens."
He also liked the Mocs' 50-30 rebounding edge.
"Our overall energy was better," Paris noted of the final half. "We were more active as help defenders."
Not that it started out that way after the break. Trailing 42-32 at intermission, the Phoenix briefly pulled within 44-38 less than three minutes into the final half. But the Mocs were ahead by double digits again a little more than two minutes later and built on that advantage the rest of the way.
"We did a good job of being more patient in the second half," said Paris, whose team's next game will be at South Alabama on Friday. "Guys have shown signs they can do multiple things, on the offensive side especially. Can those versatile guys offensively be as versatile defensively? We have to grow into being able to do that defensively."
His best-ever college performance in the books, Smallwood seemed ready to try to embrace his coach's wishes.
"We need to take what we did the second half and play that way the first half," he said.
If the Mocs do that, Charlotte won't be the only NCAA Division I program they'll surprise this season.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at email@example.com.