Photo by Logan Stapleton
By Peyton Gray, Sports Editor-
The Chattanooga Mocs men’s basketball team heads to Asheville to take on conference rival ETSU in the Southern Conference Tournament.
This will be the third meeting of the season for the two conference powerhouses — with the first two being nailbiters resulting in a UTC victory. The first came in early February and UTC walked out with a 67-65 win due to a buzzer-beater three from A.J. Caldwell; the next meeting saw the same margin of victory with a score of 53-51.
As far as the tournament, however, it wouldn’t be the same without both of these teams.
ETSU has won it all seven times, last year included. UTC has taken the gold 11 times with their last championship being in 2016.
Both teams have impressive resumes so far this year. ETSU has one First-Team All-SoCon player in Ledarrius Brewer. They also boast the SoCon Freshman of the Year, Damari Monsanto. UTC has two All-SoCon players to add to the list: Malachi Smith and David Jean-Baptiste.
Additionally, Chattanooga enters the tournament with an 18-7 record. This includes beginning the season with a 9-0 record and having a six-game win streak toward the end of the season.
“The six-game win streak we had was definitely the high-point of the season for us,” said David Jean-Baptiste. “Every game came down to survival. It showed what kind of fight this team had in them.”
Unfortunately for the Mocs, their seven losses are conference losses. Following the six-game streak, their final two games resulted in a loss to conference rivals UNC Greensboro and Mercer, giving them a 9-7 SoCon record.
But history doesn’t matter in terms of the 2021 SoCon Tournament — where the Mocs are wanting to return to glory and the Bucs are trying to avoid being 0-3 against UTC this year.
“We’re most looking forward to competing,” Jean-Baptiste added. “We’ve beaten them twice now and are looking to do it for a third time.”
Beating a team three times in one season is easier said than done, according to self-proclaimed experts. Despite this outdated statement, the Mocs aren’t phased. They understand that in order to overcome their struggles in the SoCon, and complete a sweep of ETSU, they’ll have to rely on the one part of their game that’s been strong all season: defense.
“You can never be too good at defense,” Jean-Baptiste said. “If you look at our last two games, we were a couple of stops away from an eight-game win streak.”
So if the Mocs defense has been stout all season, where are they struggling? They struggle with rebounding.
“Rebounding is the second tier to defense,” Jean-Baptiste noted. “Playing defense doesn’t do any good if the other team shoots and gets their own rebound.”
This is true. UTC has lost on more than one occasion this season by being out-rebounded and giving too many second-chance points. They know this and are prepared to go to Asheville and put up a fight.
“We just have to go out there and let it fly,” Jean-Baptiste said. “SoCon Tournament or not, we can’t hold nothing back.”
The SoCon tournament kicks off for the Mocs Saturday, March 6. Tipoff is at 2:30 p.m. from Harrah’s Cherokee Center in Asheville, N.C.