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Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Hamilton County elementary school students visit with UTC's Josh Ayeni before the start of the second half of Tuesday's game against Covenant College at McKenzie Arena. Ayeni scored 14 points to help the Mocs roll to a 100-39 win.

Historically speaking, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga is a basketball school.

The UTC men's program has 19 Southern Conference regular-season championships — counting eight division titles back when that was a thing — and its 11 NCAA Division I tournament appearances are just one behind Davidson for most in SoCon history. On top of that, through 38 editions of the SoCon women's basketball tournament, UTC has won 18 championships.

So it's easy to see why, when it comes to athletics, UTC has been primarily known for its success on the court.

Is that starting to come back?

When it comes to examples of why feelings about the men's team are trending upward, it's easy to point to games such as Tuesday's 100-39 blowout of Covenant at McKenzie Arena. The Mocs rolled past the D-III program from Lookout Mountain to improve to 5-0, and the game was played in front of 8,910 fans — the highest attendance since 9,234 came to watch Stephen Curry and Davidson back in 2009 and larger than any UTC football crowd this season.

To be fair, Tuesday's crowd included 7,000 or so third- and fourth-grade students who attended on Hamilton County Education Day.

"It was crazy," junior guard A.J. Caldwell said after Tuesday's win. "The kids were screaming and having a good time. It was the loudest I've ever heard it in here. It was cool, and I think we should do that again with some more fans at a normal time like a Saturday night or something like that. It was a great atmosphere, and I think the kids had a really good time. We enjoyed it."

It was one of the best days from an attendance standpoint for UTC since Jan. 25, 2014, when 3,854 came to see former women's coach Jim Foster's 800th victory (63-50 over Samford) before an additional 6,648 witnessed former men's coach Will Wade's Mocs defeat UNC Greensboro 77-67.

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Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / UTC men's basketball coach Lamont Paris calls a play during Tuesday's home game against Covenant College. The Mocs are off to a 5-0 start in their fifth season under Paris, and they will face College of Charleston at 4 p.m. Saturday as part of a doubleheader for UTC basketball at McKenzie Arena. The women's team faces Georgia State at 1:30 p.m.

But for a better measure of where the men's program is right now in its fifth season under coach Lamont Paris, it's been easier to check out the attendance of road games.

Look at the season opener against Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, where the Mocs outlasted the Lions, 75-64. That crowd included former NFL wide receiver Terrell Owens, who also lettered in basketball during his time at UTC in the 1990s — and three years ago had his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction celebration at McKenzie Arena rather than in Canton, Ohio.

Look at last Saturday, where 7,202 watched the Mocs defeat Virginia Commonwealth University 54-52 on a last-second shot by Malachi Smith.

"There's a lot of hype coming in with us, but I hang my hat on — and the team hangs its hat on — going out there and doing it," Smith said after the VCU win. "Coach is confident and challenging people to come out, and we're going to give the fans a show and we're going to be really successful."

The UTC men host College of Charleston (3-2) at 4 p.m. Saturday in the second game of a Mocs doubleheader against nonconference opponents. The UTC women (1-4), who are struggling with youth and injuries, will seek their second win when they face Georgia State (3-3) at 1:30 p.m.

Right now, the men's team is the attraction, and much like the preseason expectations that made the Mocs the SoCon favorites, they haven't shied away from the attention — something that Paris called "hard to describe, to be 100% honest with you."

"I'm very blessed that this is what I get to do for a job around these particular guys. I don't know if I deserve that, but I'm not giving it up, that's for sure," Paris said after the VCU win. "This is a tremendous amount of fun.

"I said it early, and I'll say it from every mountaintop I can: To the Mocs fans that are out there, if you haven't seen these guys and you like basketball, you owe it to yourself to watch them play, and if you don't like basketball, it might make you into a fan. This is a really, really good crew and a great group and talented and all that, too, but what a great assembly of young men."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3.

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