By Parris Clarke, Staff Writer-
The Chattanooga Mocs are rolling as of late. They’ve won their last four games, all of which have been conference contests, rising the Mocs rapidly up the Southern Conference standings.
Their two most recent wins came last week against the Citadel Bulldogs and the second-place Wofford Terriers.
Wednesday’s game against Wofford was a blowout from the opening tip. The Mocs came out blazing, hitting four three’s in the first six minutes of game time, ultimately resulting in a 38-23 UTC lead at halftime. Malachi Smith was the catalyst for the Mocs in the first period. He shot 6-9 en route to 15 first-half points.
In the second half, Smith let his backcourt mate, David Jean-Baptiste, join the fun. Jean-Baptiste scored 15 points of his own in the second half, and never let Wofford get within shouting distance of the lead.
Saturday’s game against the Citadel wasn’t as convincing. Initially, the Mocs continued where they left off, jumping out to a 13-point lead with 8:31 left in the first half, only to have the lead cut to just two points before intermission.
Things looked bleak for UTC coming out of the break as the Citadel claimed a 47-42 lead with 14:38 left in the game. From that point forward the Mocs flipped a switch. Some great ball movement and a couple of A.J. Caldwell threes led to a 14-0 run, and a 56-47 UTC lead. However, similar to the first half, the lead nearly slipped away as the Citadel cut the deficit to just two with 12 seconds left, before the Mocs ultimately secured a 70-66 victory.
Coach Lamont Paris didn’t fault his team for the blown leads. Rather he credited their opponent’s play.
“We had some things we didn’t do, but they had some good old fashion shot-making. I know there were a couple in there… Kaiden Rice is a big-time shot-maker, too. Those are HORSE shots. Basketball is a game of runs. They did a great job of making tough shots.”
The Mocs aforementioned four-game win streak is the longest active streak in the Southern Conference. And while their wins in the midst of the streak have come in a variety of ways, their defense has been a mainstay.
Over the course of their win streak, they have held each one of their opponents to under 70 points. It’s a simple equation for the Mocs, when they hold teams under 70 they win; when they don’t they lose. UTC is 13-0 when holding teams under this defensive threshold and a paltry 3-5 when teams score over that mark.
Paris echoed the sentiment that defense is their driving force.
“The guys did a phenomenal job defensively. I can’t say enough about that. To hold those guys to almost 20 points below their average and to only eight made threes on the game, in this stretch of games, that’s really been what we’ve hung out hat on. We’ve been able to defend, and that gives you a chance to win, barring a terrible offensive performance. I don’t think we performed that great offensively. We generated some high-quality shots, but we missed some of those. We defended in a way that kept us right where we needed to be.”