The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men's basketball team rebounded from a disappointing loss to Furman in a big way Saturday at McKenzie Arena. The Mocs improved to 11-6 overall and 2-2 in the Southern Conference with a scoreboard-busting 105-67 win over Samford.
Coach Lamont Paris called his team's defensive execution "pristine" following the blowout win, crediting his players' execution in ball-screen situations with both shutting the Bulldogs down and creating easy points. The Mocs created 15 turnovers, turning them into 22 points.
Offensively, forward Ramon Vila had a career-high 24 points and led a 43-37 edge in rebounds with eight. Matt Ryan added an efficient 20 points, including a 6-of-7 output from 3-point range, while David Jean-Baptiste had 19 points and a career-high eight assists. Stefan Keninc was 5-for-5 on 3s and scored 17 points.
UTC led 41-30 at halftime after Samford (8-10, 2-2) cut into what was a 23-point deficit at one point with a 15-3 run. The Mocs, though, raised the lead back to 20 in the first five minutes of the second half and kept going.
UTC shot 60.5% in the second half, going 10-of-15 from 3-point range, while holding Samford to 31.4% shooting (11-of-35) in the final 20 minutes.
The Mocs conclude a three-game home stretch Wednesday when defending SoCon champion Wofford visits for a 7 p.m. tipoff.
Vila was UTC's offensive focus coming into Saturday's game, and he came through with a career-high 24 points on 12-of-16 shooting while adding eight rebounds. Vila was not involved offensively in Wednesday's loss to Furman, and with a good matchup against a not-very-intimidating Samford squad, Paris wanted to get Vila early touches. It worked.
Among the impressive stats from Saturday's blowout win was a 28-to-4 assists advantage. Besides Jean-Baptiste's eight, Ryan had six assists and Jonathan Scott added five. On the other end, Samford's lack of assists was at least partially due to the UTC defense helping inside and on the perimeter whenever a defensive switch offered the Bulldogs a possible mismatch. Samford star Josh Sharkey, who had a big game against UTC last season, had 21 points but also a game-high six turnovers.
Samford had closed the first half on a 15-3 run to get within 11 when the Mocs opened the second half with a 13-3 spurt to reassume control. Ryan began the half with a 3-pointer, the Mocs collected two steals and A.J. Caldwell ended the run with a 3 off a feed from Jean-Baptiste. Following Wednesday's nine-minute scoring lapse, Saturday's answer was refreshing for UTC fans.
Paris on scoring outburst: "This is going to sound crazy, but it's because of the way we defended. Our defense got us 105 points because of the job we did on their ball-screen situations."
Paris on Vila's big game: "He's been playing well, so it was a part of our plan to get him involved early. He had a little lull there where he wasn't playing as aggressively as he could, but I have a tremendous amount of faith in him. For him to get the ball around the basket, it creates havoc for other teams because he can produce. He's also one of the least selfish guys I've ever been around in my career."
Vila on responding after Samford's first-half-ending 15-3 run: "We just talked about staying calm. We know how to handle the zone (defense) and full-court press, and we came out and handled the press extremely well. We got the lead back up to 20 in five minutes."
Ryan on the importance of the big win: "It's important to be able to bounce back from the loss. We all think we are a better team than Furman, to be honest, but we didn't play our best basketball. We've got a big week ahead with Wofford and UNCG. Just like two days ago, we have to put this game behind us and move forward. Wofford doesn't care how many points we scored today."
WHAT IT MEANS
It might be overly dramatic to say this was a must-win considering it's only game four of the SoCon schedule, but to lose back-to-back home games would have put the Mocs in panic mode with the reigning league champ coming in Wednesday. Instead, the blowout win over a team picked to finish above them should give the Mocs a boost of confidence.
* The 105 points and 38-point margin of victory are the most for the Mocs since a romp past The Citadel in 2016.
* UTC's total of 17 made 3-pointers ties the school record, while the 54.8% from long range is the best rate since going 11-of-17 (64.7%) against Mercer on Feb. 10, 2018. It is the Mocs' sixth game this season with 10-plus 3s.
* The Mocs' 40 field goals made are the most at McKenzie Arena against a Division I opponent and tied for fifth-most all-time.
Contact Lindsey Young at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6296; follow on Twitter @youngsports22