Malachi Smith hit a go-ahead jumper with 42 seconds to play, and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga scored the final five points of the game to hold off hot-shooting Virginia Military Institute and earn a 78-74 win in Southern Conference competition Saturday afternoon.
The league-leading Mocs (16-4, 6-1), who completed a 2-0 road trip with the victory at Cameron Hall in Lexington, Virginia, return home to face Wofford at 7 p.m. Wednesday at McKenzie Arena before visits to The Citadel (Jan. 29) and Samford (Feb. 2).
Smith scored a game-high 25 points while grabbing six steals and five rebounds. David Jean-Baptiste added 15 points, Silvio De Sousa 13 and Darius Banks 10 for UTC, which won despite the Keydets (11-9, 4-4) making 10 of their final 12 field-goal attempts — although the hosts' last shot was a potential tying 3-pointer that Kamdyn Curfman missed.
Jean-Baptiste also had a steal on VMI's prior possession with UTC up 75-74, and the veteran guard made two free throws to stretch the lead to three.
Banks, who made a free throw for the game's final point and led the Mocs with seven rebounds, said of the Keydets' hot finish: "We just make sure we keep our head straight and make sure we focus on the next one. We can't dwell on the last play; we just have to get the next one and make sure we get the rebound."
The Mocs improved to 8-3 away from home, guaranteeing at least a .500 road record for the second consecutive season. After their two-game swing to Birmingham, Alabama, and Charleston, South Carolina, the Mocs will play five of their final eight scheduled games at home.
"This is a tough place to play," UTC coach Lamont Paris on the postgame Zoom call. "It felt like every Keydet was here, which made it even more fun that the game come down the way it did. That was an awesome, gritty, tough-it-out game by our guys.
"If you come out on top of some of these games, which we've been able to do a good job of so far, it's a huge boost you have to finish the season, knowing some of these other teams that might be in contention are going to have to go on the road, so I can't say enough about our guys and what they've done this year."
Compiled by Gene Henley. Contact him at ghenley@times freepress.com.