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University of Tennessee at Chattanooga basketball coach Lamont Paris often instructs his players on the difference between performing well and playing well.

"Playing well is making the right decision," he said in the aftermath of Tuesday night's 95-62 rout of outmanned Hiwassee. "Performing well is making the shot."

But at least one of Paris's Mocs did both with equal aplomb against the Tigers. Junior transfer Jerry Johnson Jr. not only led UTC in scoring with 20 points, but he also brought a smile to his coach's face with a pass he made to David Jean-Baptiste that led to a layup.

"Jerry's played a lot of college basketball; he's seen a lot of college basketball," Paris said after watching his team improve to 3-5 for the season. "A couple of times tonight he pulled back instead of pressing the tempo. We ended up with a layup on one of those because he was patient. He let the game come to him."

Added Johnson of that assist: "I was going to throw it to Don (Donovann Toatley), but then I saw a defender right behind him. So I yelled at him, like I was going to throw it to him, just to throw the defender off, then passed it to David for the layup."

It's precisely the kind of play a coach's son might make, which Johnson was during his youth in Memphis. His late father was a coaching legend there, particularly at Mitchell High School. Jerry Jr. — having spent a senior year at Notre Dame Prep in Massachusetts — first signed with Fairfield, averaging 11.4 points per game his sophomore season before transferring to UTC and sitting out the 2017-18 season.

"I left Fairfield because my mom was lonely after my father died," Johnson said. "I needed to be closer to home."

He is certainly coming closer to the player he was before his redshirt season. Tuesday night marked his third double-digit scoring performance in his last four starts. He's hitting 73 percent of his free throws and more than 40 percent of his 3-pointers.

But what he may best be providing is calm and experience on a Mocs squad believed to be the nation's fifth youngest.

"It's really evident, his feel, his knowledge," Paris said of Johnson. "His instincts are really good. He knows all the tricks you need to succeed."

Because of that, and because Paris views him as a "great kid," the two have discussed Johnson's leadership potential.

"He'd like to," said the UTC coach. "And I think he can. But as I've told him, your backyard needs to be clean before you start complaining about trash in your neighbor's yard. You've got to be the best player and teammate you can be before you can lead others."

Paris was having such a hard time watching his freshman-dominated team in the opening half that when it got to 31-all late in the opening period, he ripped off his suit coat and threw it on the court.

"Those lights were getting hot," Paris said with a grin afterward. "It hit the court pretty hard."

Johnson's father pushed him to play hard and work hard most every day of his life until Feb. 17, 2016, when he lost a long fight with cancer.

"I hit seven out of nine 3-pointers and scored 25 points that night," Johnson said. "One year later I had nine points in a game at Quinnipiac in regulation and finished with 17 in a game we won in overtime. I know he had a hand in those games. My father's had a hand in every good thing that's happened to me."

Johnson's decision to transfer after his sophomore season couldn't have come at a better time for Paris and the UTC program he's in his second season rebuilding.

"I don't feel any pressure," he said. "During the year off I was just observing a lot."

Tuesday night, his teammates got to observe what it's like to both perform well and play well.

And as Paris noted afterward, "If you play well and perform well, you're not going to lose."

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com

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