For most of the second half Saturday at UNC Greensboro, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men's basketball team defended as well as it had during the six-game winning streak that preceded the game.
It was the one thing the Mocs didn't do well on that end of the court — rebound — that hurt them time and time again and led to a 60-55 Southern Conference loss to the Spartans, who swept the season series.
It's true that UTC's offense stalled in the second half after shooting 8-for-15 from 3-point range before intermission. But it's possible, and UTC junior forward K.C. Hankton said it afterward, that the first half made the Mocs a little too comfortable with their outside shooting.
The Mocs missed their first 10 attempts from beyond the arc in the second half, though they eventually settled back in and finished 11-for-31 from 3-point range. It was the inability to get the stops needed that most hurt them, though.
UTC (18-6, 9-6) closes the regular season with games at Mercer on Wednesday and against Virginia Military Institute next Saturday, with the SoCon tournament set for March 5-8 in Asheville, North Carolina.
Malachi Smith led the Mocs in Greensboro with 16 points, eight rebounds and three assists. Hankton added 13 points with six rebounds, and David Jean-Baptiste scored 11, but the Mocs shot just 21% from the field in the second half.
Mohammed Abdulsalam scored 15 points, Isaiah Miller had 12 with 11 rebounds and five assists, and Keyshaun Langley chipped in 11 points for the Spartans (16-7, 11-4), who rallied late to win 74-66 on Jan. 23 in Chattanooga.
There wasn't really a star, but Jean-Baptiste's on-court presence was the most conducive to the Mocs' success, as UNCG only outscored the Mocs by a single point in the senior's 36 minutes and 25 seconds of game time.
Of UTC's 54 shots Saturday, 31 were from 3-point range. That was great in the first half when the Mocs were making shots, but 16 of the team's 28 second-half attempts were 3s, and only making three hurt the flow of the offense. It was almost as if the Mocs panicked.
The Mocs were held to just two field goals in the first 13 minutes of the second half.
"We didn't get to the rim or the (free-throw) line as much as we needed to. When the game came down to it, we didn't get to the line." — Banks after the Mocs shot just six free throws
"It's the worst thing in basketball. Playing 28, 29 seconds of great defense, thinking you have a stop, and all of a sudden you give up an offensive rebound and you've got to go another 20 potentially, and a lot of times there's a lot of open people around the perimeter and it's easier shots, so it's frustrating to let that happen." — Hankton after the Mocs allowed 10 offensive rebounds resulting in 12 second-chance points in the second half
It's not the worst loss in the world. A win would have put the Mocs solidly in position for a top-four seed at the SoCon tournament, and they are still in position, but they'll need to win at Mercer and against VMI. And with the team's limited depth, getting a top-six seed — meaning the Mocs wouldn't play until the second day of the tournament — is important.