By Peyton Gray, Sports Editor-
The Chattanooga Mocs men’s basketball team traveled to Asheville, N.C. Saturday to compete in the Southern Conference Quarterfinals, losing to the ETSU Buccaneers by a score of 63-53.
The Mocs — who played with everything but a consistent lineup all year — started the game without first-team All-SoCon guard, Malachi Smith, and starting forward Darius Banks. The No. 4 seed UTC fell to No. 5 ETSU after having won both games this season.
“We were short-handed, missing some guys in our rotation, and that made it tough,” head coach Lamont Paris said. “When you lose at a moment’s notice two guys who play 30-plus minutes a game, you have to change things on the fly.”
UTC went into Asheville with a 2-0 record against the Bucs. Albeit, the Mocs won both games by a slim margin of two. It’s easy to see how the lack of two prominent starters could make a difference come tournament time.
ETSU entered the game with Freshman of the Year, Damari Monsanto, as well as first-team All-SoCon Ledarrius Brewer.
With the absence of Smith, Chattanooga had to rely upon David Jean-Baptiste to bring the ball down the court. Jean-Baptiste is a great ball-handler, but he prefers to roam around and shoot the ball from outside the arch. Due to this, one of UTC’s leading scorers was hamstrung to scoring eight points in the game.
Does UTC feel as though they should’ve won the game? Of course. But the Mocs aren’t known for making excuses.
“I’m not looking for sympathy,” said head coach Lamont Paris. “We went out there and messed up.”
Chattanooga started the game leading 5-0. The score soon became 11-2. This lead didn’t last long, as the Bucs took a 23-21 lead going into halftime.
That’s not to say ETSU ran away with it. The Mocs kept it close until the final minutes of the game.
Despite two starters being out due to COVID-19 related protocols, the Chattanooga native Jamaal Walker stepped up. He led the Mocs in scoring with 16.
Unfortunately, this effort didn’t suffice.
Though it remained close for the majority of the game, the Mocs couldn’t hold on. They cut the lead down to just one, 48-47, before allowing the Bucs a run with just over a minute left.
This ending definitely isn’t what UTC was looking for. However, despite COVID, despite missing starters, they look to be better than ever come next year.