By Peyton Gray, Staff Writer —
The Chattanooga Mocs men’s basketball team began their season in McKenzie Arena with a 99-63 win against the defending NCAA DII Peach Belt Conference Tournament Champions, Lander Bearcats.
The Mocs start this season with eight returning players on the roster, with newcomers such as Malachi Smith and Josh Ayeni.
David Jean-Baptiste, the senior from Miami, came into the game just 75 points shy of 1,000 for his UTC career. He led the Mocs with 19 points in the season opener.
Malachi Smith was just behind him with 18 points of his own in his first career start at UTC. He added to this with 10 rebounds and five assists, posting a double-double.
“With the pandemic, and me sitting out last year, it just makes you appreciate the game so much more,” Smith said. “I just wanted to go out there and have my teammates back.”
Josh Ayeni, the transfer from South Alabama, scored 10 points, while A.J. Caldwell had nine points, a career-high eight rebounds and five assists.
Jermaine Patterson led the Bearcats with 18 points and seven rebounds. Following Patterson were Zane Rankin (14) and Jared Sherfield (10).
The Mocs started strong in the first half, with an early eight-point lead. This quickly turned into a 17-point lead–after a 9-0 run–putting the game at 31-14 with just over seven minutes left in the first half.
Though the Bearcats battled, the Mocs continued to play solid basketball from that point on, having a 50-31 lead at the half.
The Mocs dominated the second half much like the first. David Jean-Baptiste connected on a three, minutes in, moving the score to 68-38.
After a Trey Doomes shot with a minute left in the game, the Mocs saw their largest lead of the day: 38.
“We got off to a good start and played pretty well,” head coach Lamont Paris said. “I thought they did a really good job of handling the circumstances of cheering for each other, being happy for each other.”
This delayed Nov. 25 season opener is the latest start date in 25 years for UTC. The Mocs were originally scheduled to open against Bellarmine on Nov. 22.