By Chris King, — Assistant Sports Editor
While faculty and students have been on holiday break, the men’s basketball team has been hard at work on preparing for Southern Conference play. The Chattanooga Mocs wrapped up their non-conference schedule on Wednesday afternoon with a 73-57 win over Jacksonville State.
The Mocs head into SoCon play with an impressive non-conference resume with wins at Tennessee, at Coastal Carolina and a hard-fought win over visiting Marshall. Chattanooga moves into SoCon play with a 9-3 overall record and it marks the second time in school history that the Mocs have won nine games this early in the season. The first time was last year during head coach Matt McCall’s first season.
“There’s been a lot of adversity we’ve faced in these first 12 games, and I felt like we have handled it the right way,” said head coach Matt McCall. “We have to continue to get better and we’ll get back to work right after Christmas because this is a really important time for our team.”
The Mocs traveled to Nashville to take on in-state foe Vanderbilt in front a big crowd at Memorial Gymnasium on Saturday Dec. 17. Chattanooga fell in heartbreaking fashion as Vanderbilt Senior Luke Kornet, Lantana, Texas, hit a three pointer with 2.9 seconds left to give the Commodores a 76-74 win.
Senior Casey Jones, New Orleans, La., added 16 points for the Mocs with 14 points coming in the second half. Senior Justin Tuoyo, Fayetteville, Ga., scored 12 points and added nine rebounds. Senior Greg Pryor, Memphis, added 12 points on 4-7 shooting in 37 minutes of gameplay. The Mocs outscored Vanderbilt in the paint 44-28 and forced 11 turnovers.
“We really felt like we deserved to win the game, we played well enough to win, said coach McCall following the loss at Vanderbilt. “We came in wanting to out-rebound and defend the perimeter and we did both. We had a chance to beat a good SEC team on the road in a great environment and a couple bounces just didn’t go our way.”
Chattanooga wrapped up its non-conference schedule with a senior led 73-57 win over Jacksonville State at McKenzie Arena on Wednesday afternoon. Seniors Tre’ McLean, Charleston, S.C., Johnathon Burroughs-Cook, Memphis, and Pryor each scored 14 points in the pre-holiday showdown against Jacksonville State.
Senior Casey Jones went down early in the first half after he rolled his left ankle, he left the game and never returned. Jones was 3-for-3 from the field and had eight points before his injury.
The Mocs took a 37-26 lead into halftime after McLean hit a baseline runner to beat the buzzer. Chattanooga came out of halftime and extended the lead to 47-26 with 16:58 left to play. The Mocs lead reached as much as 29 after a Pryor three pointer with 10:02 left in game to give UTC a 62-33 lead. The game got as close as 71-57 but the Mocs were able to close the game out strong to claim the win over Jacksonville State.
“When Casey (Jones) went down, your mind kind of shifts,” said coach McCall. “Our guys did a great job of keeping their composure and playing through a lot of adversity because there was a lot of it. Jacksonville State is a great team. I thought our focus level, especially coming out in the second half, was through the roof and I’m proud of our guys for that.”
After the holidays, the Mocs head into SoCon play with a trip to Cullowhee, N.C., to take on the Western Carolina Catamounts on New Years Eve. Tip off is set for 2 p.m.