By Chris King, Assistant Sports Editor —
Senior night wasn’t so sweet as the men’s basketball team fell to Mercer 64-54 in front of 5,632 at McKenzie Arena on Saturday night. The Mocs have now lost three straight SoCon games for the first time since the 2012-13 season.
“Obviously not the way I think anyone envisioned closing out the season at home tonight,” said Head Coach Matt McCall. “When you walk into the locker room and you look at certain guys’ faces you know certain guys really, really care. I think one of our biggest issues as a team this year is our response when things don’t go well, and I think that was the biggest issue again tonight.”
The first half was a defensive battle as the Mocs took a 23-17 lead into halftime. The 17 first-half points that UTC allowed were a season low against a Division I team this season.
Mercer came out of halftime on a 13-4 run to take a three point lead with 16:13 left to play. The game went back and forth until senior Greg Pryor, Memphis, Tenn., hit a big 3-pointer to give Chattanooga a 44-41 lead with 8:17 remaining.
Mercer took a 46-45 lead on a pair of Rai’n Holland free throws and never looked back from there. The Bears outscored Chattanooga 19-9 in the final seven minutes to claim the win. Jordan Strawberry and Holland led Mercer with 17 and 15 points respectively.
It was once again a cold shooting night for UTC as the Mocs shot 37.5 percent from the field, including a dismal 4-for-24 from 3-point range.
“We’re not a good shooting team and that’s something that really needs to be addressed, in recruiting,” said Coach McCall. “The nights when the ball is going into the basket, we are pretty good on offense, and on the nights that it’s not we get too consumed with it. Because that’s two out of the last three games that we played where there’s little in the basket.”
The senior trio of Tuoyo, Pryor and Casey Jones, New Orleans, La., combined for 35 of UTC’s 54 points. Tuoyo added 14 points and six rebounds while Jones added 11 points and five rebounds. Pryor filled the box score in his final home game at UTC with 10 points, six assists and four rebounds in 38 minutes.
The loss drops UTC to 19-10 overall and 10-7 in SoCon play. The Mocs wrap up the regular season on Monday Feb. 27 at The Citadel at 7 p.m.
Following Monday, the Mocs then prepare for the SoCon Tournament in Asheville, N.C. The tournament begins on March 3 and continues until Monday, March 6. The winner of the conference tournament advances to the NCAA Tournament.
“The final chapter is not written until the end of the last game,” said Pryor looking toward the remainder of the season. “You never know what happens. You can never call it. We’re a really talented team, if we just find the heart in each other to be a team and not just basketball players, playing basketball, there’s no telling where we could go.”