(gomocs.com) CULLOWHEE—The Chattanooga Mocs dropped a frustrating 87-77 decision at Western Carolina Tuesday night. It was the Southern Conference opener for both teams.
Matt Ryan led the Mocs with 18 points and seven rebounds. David Jean-Baptiste chipped in 14, while A.J. Caldwell tallied a career-best 12. Maurice Commander added 11 with four assists. Mason Faulkner (31) and Carlos Dotson (21) combined for 52 for the Catamounts.
The Mocs led by as many as 11 in the second half. Two Maurice Commander free throws with 16:52 to play made it 45-34 helping stave off an early advance from the home team. Western was undaunted.
It went on a 10-1 run after the free throws. Marcus Thomas’ layup made it a two-point game, 46-44. A.J. Caldwell answered with a layup of his own on the next possession on a nice feed by David Jean-Baptiste. It snapped a five-minute drought without a field goal for the visitors.
That sparked the Mocs. Another Caldwell layup was followed by Ramon Vila’s three-point play at 10:34. The ship was righted, and the Scenic City crew extended the advantage to 53-46. The two teams traded points for the next minute-plus. Another Caldwell layup, this time from Stefan Kenić made it a 59-52 contest.
The next Mocs basket came six minutes later on Jonathan Scott’s three from the right wing. Mason Faulkner spurred the Cats on a 20-2 spurt flipping the seven-point deficit into an 11-point advantage, 72-61, before the Scott triple at 3:35.
Chattanooga could not get the stops it needed defensively to mount a challenge. Kenić free throws with just under a minute remaining got it to six, 80-74, but the Cats pulled away for the early marker in the conference race.
“It was a bad defensive half,” Coach Lamont Paris explained in the post-game radio show. “Defense and offense always correlates…it’s amazing. Guys have to do the same thing over and over again to be really good on both ends.
“The offense was moving, then we had guys try to do their own thing for just a couple possessions, and that sprung another guy trying to do their own thing, and then another. We were grinding and getting what we wanted with our shots; we just didn’t compete defensively.
“At the end of the day, you have to compete. That was a tough, scrappy team we just played, and we just did not compete with them.”
It was a slow start with the Catamounts scoring 10 of the first 12 points. The Mocs flipped the script with a 26-6 spurt capped by A.J. Caldwell’s three with 5:53 to go on a great pass by Justin Brown. Western got to within six, 34-28 late, but Ryan hit a layup and drilled a three from the top of the key to send the Mocs into the break leading by 10, 39-29.
Tonight ends the Mocs 5-game road show. The squad went 2-3 over the stretch including winning the Emerald Coast Classic last weekend. They return to the Roundhouse Sunday, Dec. 8 taking on Tennessee Wesleyan.
Sunday’s game features a halftime Teddy Bear toss. Fans bringing a stuffed animal to donate to charity can purchase a buy one, get one free ticket.
Chattanooga 5-4/0-1 | Western Carolina 6-2/1-0
“That was a problem for us. You have to learn to play when things happen like that. We still had chances. The way they guarded the ball screen for the majority of the game a certain way, and then we got the ball to the top of the key and we don’t shoot the three in a six-point game. We still had chances.” – Coach Paris on early foul trouble
“Basketball is a game of runs and especially in the second half tonight, we have to give credit to Western Carolina. They took advantage of their home court and started running with it. They came out and were really aggressive in the second half. They did a good job of capitalizing on that momentum. They stayed aggressive and played through us, played around us.” – Jean-Baptiste on the second half momentum shift.