By Kyle Yager, Assistant Sports Editor —
The UTC men’s basketball team lost the 2017-18 season opener 74-65 on Friday night at Wyoming. This was their first loss in a season opener since the 2011-12 season.
The following are five takeaways from the contest.
The Mocs wouldn’t go away in what was an appropriately scrappy performance. Wyoming led by as many as 16 points (twice), but the Mocs always seemed to claw their way back into making it competitive.
UTC had a period in the first half consisting of over six minutes without scoring a point. The Cowboys went on a 15-0 run during that dry stretch.
There were two ties and five lead changes in the contest. The Cowboys lead fluctuated throughout the second half, as the Mocs got within shouting distance at seven, making it 63-56, but that would be as close as it would get for the remainder of the game.
“I was glad to it got down to that and we made couple of plays to get the momentum going into the second half,” said UTC Head Coach Lamont Paris. “We came out and I thought we did a much better job with the things we can control in the second half. We could shoot better at times, overall we did some good things.”
Spreading the wealth
UTC had five different players reach double digits as they spread the wealth. Junior Nat Dixon, Panama City, Florida, led the Mocs with a career-high 14 points. Freshman James Lewis Jr., Mt. Holly, North Carolina, had 12 points and sophomore Rodney Chatman, Lithonia, Georgia, added 11. The Mocs also had seven different players log at least 20 minutes of game time as they rotated effectively.
“It is a big crowd,” said Dixon. “These young guys, it was their very first time in college, playing against a really good Wyoming team, which have seven or eight seniors coming back, so I was really proud of our guys stepping up and playing hard.”
UTC got after it in the paint as they actually won the battle on the boards in the contest. The Mocs finished +3 on the boards, tallying 38 rebounds to the Cowboys’ 35. UTC snagged 29 of 33 misses by the Cowboys as Wyoming was limited to only two second-chance points.
“I think as a general rule, we made some improvements from the Francis Marion exhibition game,” said Paris. “I was happy with that. I will watch the tape and see things specifically, but that was just how I felt. Sometimes as coaches you go on gut and I felt like that game was drastically different than this game. We preach growth, and just because we grew in this one doesn’t mean we can’t go backwards in the next one.”
UTC had no answer for Wyoming senior Hayden Dalton. Dalton scored 30 in the contest on 9-for-17 shooting, including 5-for-9 beyond the arc. Dalton also compiled 13 boards and played all 40 minutes.
“In the second half we did a better job,” said Paris. “I think Dalton only had two three-point attempts in the second half as opposed to the first half. That was something that we talked about. He made some tough shots too, but as basketball players, they do that from time to time.”
The Mocs had a problem with turnovers in the contest. UTC had 12 turnovers in the first half and 16 turnovers total. This led to 18 points for the Cowboys.
A lot of the turnovers were unforced errors by the Mocs, as the Cowboys had only five steals. Chatman and Lewis Jr. had four turnovers each.
“The one good thing that came out of the game – there was more than one – one of them was that when we did some of the things that we specifically asked the guys to do, and they worked hard at doing them,” said Paris. “When they did them in the game, the results rewarded them. Hopefully, guys will believe in those things, because they are some of the most reproducible and controllable things that we ask them to do. We don’t ask them to do things that they can’t do on a consistent basis.”