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Let's say you had been coaching the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga basketball team instead of John Shulman on Monday night in the Southern Conference tournament title game.

You've got five senior starters who each play at least 26 minutes a game. You've got a capable reserve who is on the court almost that often. You've got a couple of other guys hitting the floor for about eight minutes a game.

Then, down near the end of your bench sits Dante Harvey, who's averaging 1.6 points in a little less than six minutes per contest.

Harvey's so valuable that Shulman hadn't played him a single minute in 14 of the Mocs' last 18 games, including the first two SoCon tourney games. Thanks partly to an early-season foot injury, the 6-foot-6 freshman from Lithonia, Ga., has collected more splinters than points. They haven't had to wash his uniform since Christmas.

So if you're the coach, and your long-term employment future might rest on this single night, are you sending Harvey in against the College of Charleston less than five minutes along?

No, you're not. You've watched the Mocs lose 47 games the past three winters and you kind of think a few of the fans had it right when they called Shulman stupid after a 22-point home loss to Davidson earlier this season.

Or you might be the guy who cornered him outside his son's elementary school a few days ago with a handful of helpful coaching tips.

And until this weekend, maybe you had a few legitimate reasons for your anger and your doubt. Especially after Charleston coach Bobby Cremins told a local radio station that the once mighty Mocs program "Isn't what it used to be."

Ouch.

But this is also why Shulman is heading to the NCAA tournament this morning for the second time in five years after the Mocs rocked the Cougars 80-69. Because Harvey didn't just play: He played well enough to score six points in 96 seconds. Down 8-4 when he entered, the Mocs caught the Cougars at 12.

Then Shulman pulled a second rabbit out of his coaching bag 10 minutes later with another freshman forward, Chris Early, who didn't play a second against Samford in Sunday's semifinal game and didn't score a point against Elon a night earlier.

All Early did against Charleston was total six points and five rebounds in four masterful minutes.

Think Shulman's stupid now?

"Those guys responded," the coach said with a smile as most of the crowd of 5,042 inside McKenzie Arena danced around him. "Donte hadn't played a minute in a month of Sundays. But I told him this afternoon we were going to put him in, and he responded big-time."

As for Early, well, "We were in foul trouble," Shulman said. "I imagine I'm going to hear a lot that we may need to play them more, huh?"

It doesn't always work, of course. The Mocs aren't 18-16 today because Shulman pressed all the right buttons this season. But he also understood after a 2-8 start and 0-3 SoCon beginning that three days in March meant everything.

Winning three games in three days isn't easy if you're North Carolina, much less UTC. You need good coaching, you need good playing and you need a little luck. And the Mocs certainly had all three. As much as Harvey and Early delivered an unexpected spark in the beginning, Kevin Goffney doused a white-hot Charleston comeback late with a tip-in dunk. It was his second of the year.

Then there was the 40-foot 3-pointer Ty Patterson hit with the shot clock between one second and zero midway through the final period.

"That's just the way we draw it up," Shulman said with a grin. "I wait for the shot clock to hit two seconds, then yell, 'Shoot it!'"

Yet to ask Patterson about that shot was to get this: "We work on that play every day in practice."

Amazingly, his father Ricky recalled that his son "hit at least one of those a game back at Westside (High in Anderson, S.C.). That was no fluke."

Nor was this title. Coaching is mostly about putting the right people in the right place at the right time. When it mattered most, Shulman did that extraordinarily well. He saw the fresh legs of Harvey and Early and knew they could make an impact. He also knew freshmen weren't likely to overextend their talent.

"My mindset was to come in and play hard, defend and rebound," Harvey said. "The scoring just came along."

Added Early, "He told us this was just another game. Just play hard. But to go to the NCAA tournament is a dream come true."

Shulman also believed Cremins' comments about his program were a motivational dream come true.

"Are you kidding me?" he said with a laugh. "We talked about it all the time."

And once this game was won the UTC fans talked about it, too.

"We are what we used to be!" they chanted from sections 103 and 104. "We are what we used to be!"

Because their coach wasn't afraid to use his bench early and often, they are a championship program once more.

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