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UTC's A.J. Caldwell looks for an open teammate during a game against Troy on Dec. 15 at McKenzie Arena. / Staff photo by Robin Rudd

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men's basketball team rallied late but fell short Saturday in a 75-64 loss to East Tennessee State University in Johnson City.

The Mocs (13-8, 4-4 Southern Conference), who are 1-3 on the road in league play this season, fell behind by 27 points early in the second half before rallying to cut their deficit to nine with 5:46 to go on an A.J. Caldwell 3-pointer from far behind the top of the key.

However, the Buccaneers (18-3, 7-1) held on thanks to Bo Hodge's career-high 27 points and a key 3 from guard Daivien Williamson with less than four minutes to play — he finished with 15 points — that pushed the lead back to 12.

Caldwell had 17 points on 6-of-6 shooting (3-of-3 from 3-point range), the second time in three days the sophomore set a career high, and added a team-best seven rebounds and four assists. Ramon Vila also had 17 points for the Mocs, along with six rebounds.

UTC was hampered by 20 turnovers that led to 20 ETSU points, and the Mocs were dominated in the paint, where the Bucs had a 46-26 edge in points.

 

SATURDAY'S STAR

Hodges was electric on both ends of the floor for ETSU, shooting 12-of-17, grabbing eight rebounds and making five of the Bucs' 11 steals. The 6-foot-5, 210-pound junior guard had 19 points in the first half, most of them on strong drives, and scored six consecutive points early in the second half as the hosts built a huge lead.

 

STANDOUT STAT

18. The Mocs have had some big scoring performances this year, each of them coming when they take care of the ball. They've also had a handful of low outputs on offense that usually go hand in hand with turnovers. Saturday's 18 giveaways led to 13 more shots for the Bucs, who enjoyed a 20-9 advantage on points off turnovers. UTC lost despite shooting 51% from the field and outrebounding the Bucs by two.

 

TURNING POINT

Despite being outplayed on both ends of the court, the Mocs trailed by only eight at halftime. Thoughts of a road upset quickly faded, though, as the Bucs opened the second half with a torrid 22-3 run in just more than six minutes. ETSU was 0-for-9 from 3-point range in the first half, but the Bucs hit three in the first six minutes of the big run that was aided by four UTC turnovers.

 

WHAT IT MEANS

Falling on the road to the SoCon's top team isn't anything to lose hope over. The biggest takeaway, for those looking for a silver lining, is the fight the Mocs showed in the second half after going down 27. To cut ETSU's lead to nine with more than five minutes to play proves this team has the fight to remain in the top half of the league. With Caldwell's emergence as a scorer off the bench, UTC coach Lamont Paris has the kind of deep rotation that should pay dividends over the league's second half.

 

QUOTABLE

Paris on the second-half rally: "A lot can happen in that time. You can go up nine or down nine; I've seen it. We got where it was a manageable deal, but the rim becomes a little smaller, you become more tentative. We got it to where it was manageable, but not ideal."

Caldwell on the team's outlook: "We feel like we can hang with anyone in the league. Last year, it was a similar situation. We feel like we improved and can hang with anyone in the league. We're just trying to build on that and keep it rolling."

 

NOTABLE

The Mocs' 3-point shooting was erratic. They missed their first seven tries behind the arc but closed the game by hitting five of eight. The 15 attempts are their fewest this season. UTC limited the Bucs to five offensive rebounds. ETSU came in averaging an offensive rebound on nearly 35% of its misses. ETSU's 20 points off 18 turnovers marked the third time this season an opponent has scored 20 or more points off UTC turnovers. The 20 turnovers were part of a season-low 45 shots taken by the Mocs, their fewest field-goal attempts since having 40 in a 2017 win over Alabama State. Caldwell has made eight of his past 11 3-point shots dating to the second half of the win against Samford two weeks ago. Vila was 7-for-10 from the field, the fifth consecutive game he has had six or more makes. He has made 36 of his 58 shots in that stretch.

Contact Lindsey Young at lyoung@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6296. Follow him on Twitter @youngsports22.

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