The East Tennessee State University men's basketball team got hot Wednesday night, and that spelled trouble for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in an 80-64 Southern Conference loss at McKenzie Arena.
The Mocs (14-10, 5-6), losers of two straight at home after an 8-1 start at McKenzie this season, more than held their own through the first 22 minutes, taking a seven-point lead just after halftime. However, ETSU (20-4, 9-2), after going just 2-for-12 from 3-point range in the first half, caught fire in the second.
Led by guard Tray Boyd III, the Buccaneers hit seven of 11 attempts behind the arc in the second half to first catch and then explode past the Mocs.
Boyd, scoreless in the first half, had a game-high 18 points to lead five Bucs in double figures. He hit three 3-pointers in a five-minute stretch of the second half as ETSU went from down three to up six.
"They got hot, and it all started with Boyd in particular," UTC coach Lamont Paris said. "We let him get loose for an easy layup, and then we get caught on a screen and we don't close out and he makes a 3. On the next one, we guard it fairly well, but he hits it.
"We were better in those situations in the first half, but we were a step late in the second half. It came down to a stretch where we didn't play well."
It also didn't help that the Mocs went cold as the Bucs warmed up. UTC shot 54% in the first half, including 4-of-6 on 3-pointers, but the Mocs hit just 36% overall (9-of-25) in the second half and only 1-of-9 from long range.
Bo Hodges, who burned the Mocs with 27 points on Jan. 25 in Johnson City, added 16 points Wednesday. Five of them came on a steal and dunk and a 3-pointer off a loose ball that put the visitors up five and kick-started the fateful run. Two minutes later, the lead was double digits.
David Jean-Baptiste led UTC with 16 points, with Matt Ryan and Ramon Vila adding 14 each. However, a bench that had been productive over the past month contributed only six points.
The stat sheet doesn't tell the whole story, but Boyd was clearly the key in the Bucs' second-half domination. Held scoreless on 0-of-6 shooting in the first half, he erupted for 18 points, 12 of them on 3-pointers in the final 20 minutes. He also had three of his team's eight steals, and when he wasn't getting clean steals, he was getting his hands on several UTC passes.
16. The Bucs ended up dominating several categories, but the biggest difference was a 42-26 edge in points in the paint. Coach Steve Forbes' team made the Mocs extend their defense in the second half with a barrage of 3-pointers after a cold long-range effort in the first half. Once spread out, the Bucs attacked UTC inside at will. After getting only 16 points in the paint in the first 20 minutes, they had 26 in the second half, including six dunks.
Inbound plays were a problem for the Mocs at times last season, and they were again Wednesday. After Boyd's 3-pointer tied the game at 47 near the midpoint of the second half, the Mocs were trying to inbound the ball under the ETSU goal. Hodges stole a long pass at midcourt and raced for a dunk. The energized Bucs went on a 13-4 run over the next four minutes to seize control.
WHAT IT MEANS
The Bucs are good. Potentially really good. They have better athletes across the board than the Mocs, and they execute with precision on both ends of the court. For the Mocs, it's another frustrating loss against a good team in which they held a lead in the second half. Though the home part of the SoCon schedule gets a little easier, there are difficult road games coming up against Wofford and Furman.
Paris on not responding to ETSU's second-half run: "We played well enough through 33 minutes of the game, but when they made their run, we didn't respond to that. It should've been a mini run, but we didn't respond with our own run, and then they just kept going."
Jean-Baptiste on ETSU's defense in the second half: "They are a great defensive team. Whenever a good team like that gets down, their defense is going to pick up the pace. They did, and we didn't respond well."
Vila on what has to improve for the Mocs to turn the season back around: "Our one-on-one defense has to improve. We did a good job in the first half, but I don't know, we kind of turned off in the second half and stopped playing defense. We have to do a better job for the entire game."