Jack Buck’s iconic “I can’t believe what I just saw” World Series call is echoing in the memory banks. It is a fitting one for certain in the Chattanooga Mocs 69-66 comeback win over UNC Asheville. It extended the Mocs winning streak to seven, the first 7-0 start since 1974-75 and fourth all-time.
The Mocs trailed 66-63 with Trent Stephney headed to the free throw line for the Bulldogs. Just over 20 seconds remained, and it looked bleak. Stephney missed the front end of the 1+1. Trey Doomes corralled the rebound, burst into the frontcourt and went hard to the basket. His layup attempt was off, but he and Malachi Smith’s quick hands led a deflection and offensive rebound for Doomes who was fouled with 13.3 to go. He made both free throws to cut it to one, 66-65.
“You never know how it’s going to shake out,” Coach Lamont Paris mentioned postgame. “We did some things I wasn’t happy with at times, and their pressure got to us a couple times. We kept hanging in there and got a couple stops when we needed to.
“We were able to get a bucket and call a timeout to set up our press.”
The old adage is a pressing team does not like to be pressed. Chattanooga shook the dust off its and immediately double teamed Taijon Jones in front of their bench. KC Hankton and Jamaal Walker forced an errant pass, A.J. Caldwell swooped in for the steal & layup for a one-point advantage, 67-66, as 5.4 seconds remained.
Hankton again factored in on the defensive end. His deflection led to a Malachi Smith steal. Two Smith free throws and a missed desperation heave settled into a 69-66 final.
So how did the Mocs overcome against all odds?
”Just staying together and always encouraging each other,” Hankton explained. “Staying positive is a big thing. You have to keep staying positive no matter what is happening, and you keep pushing on. Things will go your way. I feel like it’s important to always communicate with one another and stay positive.”
It was on the offensive end that first drew notice for Hankton. He led all scorers with 16 points in his Mocs debut after the NCAA Blanket Waiver decision gave him the opportunity to play. He added eight rebounds, while Smith totaled 15 points, nine boards and five assists. Doomes score 14 points and was a +13 in his 27 minutes. L.J. Thorpe paced four in double figures for UNCA with 14.
Chattanooga trailed for a majority of the first half. Hankton made an immediate impact with back-to-back threes to cut the deficit to one. It was a three-point affair, 28-25, after the Bulldogs’ Luke Lawson scored with 3:09 to go until the break.
Smith started a strong dash to the buzzer with a three to answer Lawson’s score. A 14-2 run ensued with Doomes, Hankton and Walker adding threes, Walker’s just before the buzzer. Stefan Kenić tacked on a layup on the opening possession of the second half for a 39-30 lead.
Asheville stormed back. Evan Clayborne’s bucket with 11:07 left capped a steady 21-9 run for a five-point advantage, 51-46. Thorpe extended that to seven, 55-48, before the Mocs clawed back into it setting up the final heroics.
The Mocs close the pre-holiday schedule with a two-game road trip. It starts Saturday at 3 p.m., with a visit to UAB and ends Tuesday afternoon at Tennessee State. Links for video, audio and live stats for each contest is located on the men’s basketball schedule page.