The Chattanooga Mocs got the season off to a strong start defeating Lander 99-63 in McKenzie Arena. The contest counted as an exhibition for the NCAA DII Bearcats, the defending Peach Belt Conference Tournament Champions.
David Jean-Baptiste and Malachi Smith combined for 37 points, 19 for the senior from Miami. Smith had 18 to go with 10 rebounds and five assists as both he and A.J. Caldwell flirted with the program’s fourth triple-double. Caldwell added a solid line of nine points, a career-high eight rebounds and five assists. The backcourt trio made 11 assists against just one turnover.
Jermaine Patterson paced Lander with 18 points and seven rebounds. Zane Rankin chipped in 14 nailing all four attempts from three, while Jared Sherfield added 10 points and five rebounds.
The Mocs broke it open early. They turned an eight-point advantage into 17, 31-14, with a 9-0 run, capped by two Jaden Frazier free throws with 7:24 to go in the first half. Lander battled back to 11 and 14-point deficits before Chattanooga pushed forward into the break with a 50-31 lead.
”I thought the guys played really hard,” Coach Lamont Paris noted in the postgame media session. “It was a great relief to see those guys be able to get out there on the floor and play basketball again. Part of that process is trying to make it as normal as you can under the circumstances, coaching them as normal as you can.
”We got off to a good start and played pretty well, but we were still coaching them hard and trying to get after them and challenge them on some things. I thought they did a really good job of handling the circumstances of cheering for each other, being happy for each other.”
It escalated quickly in the second half. Jean-Baptiste’s three at 15:37 saw the lead bulge to 30, 68-38. That came one possession after Stefan Kenić drilled a three on nice inside-out ball movement by Mark Tikhonenko.
The Mocs were firing on all cylinders making seven of nine from the field including all four triples. They never looked back leading by as many as 38 on a Trey Doomes jumper inside the final minute making it 99-61.
It was a dominating effort on the boards. The Mocs recorded 52 rebounds with a +24 margin. That’s the most rebounds since grabbing 55 against Samford on Jan. 24, 2018 in Paris’ first campaign. It’s largest rebound margin since +27 against Tennessee Wesleyan (46/19) last season.
”There were a lot of emotions…a ton of emotions,” Paris added. “There was relief when that ball went up in the air. You’re preparing, but not believing necessarily. When we received all our negative COVID tests last night, that was the first time I really thought about playing a basketball game.
”I just didn’t want to do that to myself or the guys and get crazy with anticipation and not do it. I was just relieved to play a basketball game.”
The Mocs are right back on the Roundhouse court Saturday hosting Northern Kentucky. It can be viewed on ESPN+ as well as listened to on WFLI 1070 AM/97.7 FM via the dulcet tones of “Voice of the Mocs” Jim Reynolds.