The Mocs were never in this one.
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women's basketball team saw the Southern Conference-leading Mercer Bears jump out to an 18-point lead after a quarter, handle UTC's best punch and calmly pull away again for a 71-50 win Saturday at McKenzie Arena.
The loss kept coach Jim Foster from earning his 900th career win at home, with UTC's next two games on the road against Western Carolina on Thursday and UNC Greensboro next Saturday. The loss also ended the Mocs' streak of home wins against SoCon opponents at 53 games.
The Bears (20-2, 7-0) shot 69 percent in the first quarter while building a 23-5 advantage, and they did it by simply getting open looks and taking advantage of them. Kahlia Lawrence and KeKe Calloway — the SoCon's two leading scorers — were a combined 6-for-10 in the period.
The 3-pointer Lawrence made with six seconds on the clock was the only one attempted in the opening quarter by the Bears, who attacked UTC's defense relentlessly throughout.
"The effort was there," Foster said. "There was a position or two where we were weak. I thought a lot of people played hard enough but weren't executing some stuff defensively, but that's been an ongoing dilemma and it's why we've been shuffling the lineup.
"I was surprised by what I was looking at rather than anything. How we approached the game, I was a little surprised, but I think a little film session will help. To me it's one of those games where stuff they hear over and over and over again, they'll understand why they hear it."
The Mocs (13-8, 4-3) showed some life in the second quarter, putting together an 11-2 run that cut the deficit to nine points after a 3 by freshman Mya Long. They cut the deficit to five twice, but the Bears — who start three seniors and two juniors with years of game experience — answered each time, first with a Lawrence baseline jumper and later with a layup by Calloway.
Point guard Syndi Means followed with a coast-to-coast, buzzer-beating layup to give Mercer a 33-24 lead at halftime.
The Bears started the second half with an 8-2 run to rebuild a double-digit lead. They led 58-36 after three quarters, and the Mocs did not get closer than 19 the rest of the way.
"We've been through so many situations, circumstances," Mercer coach Susie Gardner said. "We've got leads, had teams make runs against us — this team has been put in position to handle all the different scenarios. We knew they'd make a run, so I tried to slow the game down a little bit, but I didn't think we'd have two quarters like we had to start the game."
Lawrence and Calloway finished with 17 points each to lead the Bears, while center Rachel Selph had 12 and point guard Sydni Means — who had a team-high nine rebounds and five assists — scored 11.
Lakelyn Bouldin had 12 points to lead the Mocs. Aryanna Gilbert had 11 and Arianne Whitaker 10 off the bench. Keiana Gilbert — who had played every minute of the previous 13 games — left with an injury in the second quarter and played only seven minutes in the second half. She finished with two points and an assist.
UTC freshmen Brooke Burns and Mya Long combined for 13 points.
"It wasn't our best performance," Aryanna Gilbert said, "but I know that we'll bounce back and do what we need to do."
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @genehenleytfp.