Late in the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men's basketball team's first meeting this season with Wofford, Terriers guard Storm Murphy ran into UTC's huddle and smacked Mocs coach Lamont Paris on the rear.
The Terriers were in the process of putting together a 55-point second half that afternoon, and Murphy had been a big part of it, with 18 of his 23 points in the final 20 minutes. It helped erase a 13-point UTC halftime lead and led to an 18-point win for Wofford at McKenzie Arena.
The Mocs appeared to not forget the events of Jan. 16. Malachi Smith confirmed he didn't, and while David Jean-Baptiste didn't admit he remembered it, one could have been easily fooled by the two UTC guards' performances in the return game Wednesday night in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
Smith had 21 points to go along with seven assists and five rebounds. Jean-Baptiste had 21 points and seven rebounds.
Murphy, who had averaged 19 points per game this season? Zero, having missed all five shots, including one at the rim rejected from behind by Jean-Baptiste.
"I remembered it, but you've got to play motivated every game," Smith said. "Now, they do talk a lot, but you don't have to talk. A lot of times you're trying to make yourself believe what you are, so we just went out there and did what we had to do."
The result was a wire-to-wire 78-66 Southern Conference win for UTC at Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium, a game the Mocs led by 23 in the second half. The Mocs (6-5, 15-5), now sporting a three-game winning streak — all on the road — host The Citadel (11-7, 4-7) at noon Saturday and will try to avenge their 92-87 loss to the Bulldogs from Jan. 9.
It will be the first time the men's basketball team has had any fans in attendance at a home game this season, and those 1,000 or so will get to see as complete of a version of this roster as the team has had. The current rotation of players is 4-1 with the return of Josh Ayeni from illness, and with all the roster challenges his team has faced, Paris admitted it was the "fifth or sixth version" of the team.
"We hope we can keep this group and ride us off into the sunset. It's a really good group, a talented group," he said. "I enjoy immensely being around them, I'll tell you that."
Stefan Kenic, who played perhaps his worst game of the season against the Terriers in the first meeting, scored 16 points and played well on defense Wednesday.
The Terriers (12-7, 9-4) were led in scoring by Morgan Safford (18), Max Klesmit (15) and Keaton Turner (14).
The UTC backcourt. It wasn't just the offense. It wasn't just the defense. Smith and Jean-Baptiste were the catalysts for everything that happened against the Terriers.
It's probably the zero points for Murphy, as the tough guard and SoCon player of the year candidate, who was also averaging 4.4 assists per game, was held down.
The Mocs held a double-digit halftime lead Wednesday like they did in the first meeting, but this time UTC was able to build that advantage from 15 to 23 early in the second half instead of allowing Wofford back in it, as the Terriers had cut the lead to three by the midway point of the second half in the first game.
"I thought the guys had so much energy on the defensive end of the court. What a defensive effort by the guys. We made some shots here and there and along the way, but I couldn't be happier and prouder of what this team did on the defensive end." — Paris
"I just played my heart out. Do whatever I can for my team; they deserve it all, they deserve for me to go out there and play my best on both sides of the floor, and that's what I tried to go on and do today." — Jean-Baptiste
A UTC administrator told me confidently last week that he believed the Mocs' week-long stoppage due to COVID-19 protocol was "the best thing that happened to the team" and said that they were going to go on a winning streak. Three games later, it seems he's right as the Mocs appear refreshed and rested, with a three-game homestand ahead and a chance to supplant themselves in the top half of the league standings ahead of the SoCon tournament.