By Parris Clarke, Staff Writer-
A win can come in many different forms, as the Chattanooga Mocs men’s basketball team discovered this past week.
Wednesday they asserted their will in the second half against the Western Carolina Catamounts, cruising to a 74-67 victory.
Saturday, their victory was delivered by an A.J. Caldwell game-wining 3-pointer with 1 second left that sunk what would have been a miraculous ETSU comeback.
Two wins; two completely different ways to achieve the same outcome; and one word in the middle of it all: adaptation.
The game against WCU was a slug fest early on. The Mocs shot a putrid 34 percent in the first half — with a handful of missed layups to boot.
The second half began with more of the same, and after a WCU 3-pointer early in the half coach Lamont Paris called a timeout and knew he had to reevaluate. He immediately subbed in Caldwell who provided the Mocs with some much needed space on the floor. By abandoning his traditional lineup for a smaller, more perimeter-oriented one, Paris was signaling to his team that they needed to adapt.
Paris’s team responded by shooting a blistering 64 percent in the second half, including a season-high 48 points in the paint. The decision to go small gave UTC’s guards, Malachi Smith and David Jean-Baptiste, more room to drive the lane. They finished with 22 points and 18 points, respectively.
The Mocs have had to make quick changes on the fly off the court as well. This was their first week back in action after two postponements due to a positive COVID-19 test within the team.
Saturday’s game against ETSU was originally scheduled to be played at Mckenzie Arena, but due to the postponements it was scratched and moved to Johnson City.
Against ETSU, the Mocs came ready to play. They opened the game with a 7-0 run, and were leading 17-5 at the 10:30 mark of the first half. If not for ETSU shooting a scorching 75 percent from three in the period the deficit would have been much worse. UTC went into the half with a 33-27 lead.
It was more of the same from UTC to start the second half. They came out on an 8-2 run and were in the driver seat for the majority of the half. Smith scored an And-one that put the Mocs up 16 points with only 6:50 left to play. From that point on ETSU caught fire again. They proceeded to hit six 3-pointers in the final six minutes. During this onslaught, with 53 seconds remaining, Jean-Baptiste fouled out, forcing UTC to finish a close game without their most reliable ball handler.
With just 11 seconds left ETSU hit another 3-pointer, taking their first lead of the game, 65-64. The next possession, the Mocs come down, Smith fumbles a dribble handoff that ends up in the hands of Caldwell. With 1 second left Caldwell hoisted a prayer from about 26 feet to stave off ETSU.
The ability of UTC to adapt on the fly in a close game with their best player fouled out proved to be the difference in securing a victory against a top-tier opponent.
“That was very beneficial particularly when David [Jean-Baptiste] fouled out,” said Paris. “The ability to reset the moment and play the moment for what it is, that takes no long faces. That comes with older guys and it’s more likely to happen with older guys.”
For the Mocs, in a season as unpredictable as this, the ability to adapt might just be their most valuable skill.