Stefan Kenic made an impact in his playing debut for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men's basketball team Friday, helping lead the Mocs to a 74-56 win over Alabama State in the Emerald Coast Classic in Niceville, Florida.
Kenic, ruled eligible by the NCAA just this week after transferring from Cleveland (Ohio) State in August, led the Mocs with 15 points despite coming off the bench and playing only 17 minutes.
UTC (4-3) will face Jacksonville State (2-3) at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in the championship game of their bracket. The Gamecocks won 71-62 earlier Friday against Chicago State (3-4).
Keni was joined in double digits by Ramon Vila with 13, David Jean-Baptiste with 11 and Matt Ryan with 10. For Alabama State (0-5), Tobi Ewuosho had 10 points as his team's only scorer in double figures and also led the Hornets with eight rebounds.
"This guy, he looked like he was preparing, waiting for this moment," Mocs coach Lamont Paris said of Keni's first appearance, according to a UTC release. "It's a tribute to him. But to come out and be that efficient, I was really impressed. It's not easy, especially that first game back."
The first shot from Kenic, a 6-foot-9, 230-pound junior forward, was a 3-pointer from the right side that helped jump-start a 17-3 spurt to break open a 5-5 tie. Maurice Commander capped the run for a 22-8 advantage with 11:51 left in the first half, and the Mocs outscored the Hornets 26-9 to end the period and take a 48-22 lead into halftime.
UTC shook off back-to-back losses to Florida State and Tennessee, which are in a different bracket as part of the same event, to set up a chance at a title win before opening Southern Conference play Tuesday at Western Carolina.
"I thought the guys set the tone early and did what we wanted to do defensively," Paris said. "It never amazes me that when your defense is doing really well, your offense finds a way to keep up. Today was one of those days, especially in the first half."
UTC junior Rod Johnson, who had eight points and eight rebounds, echoed those thoughts: "We were knocking down shots, and that gets everyone going. We took control, and Coach told us from the get-go how hard their schedule has been and that they're a tough team. He told us we can't take them lightly and we need to do what we do. We went out and did that."