Three teams stood at 7-0 heading into Saturday with two, Chattanooga and UAB, meeting in Bartow Arena. Xavier stayed 7-0, while the Mocs took the top spot at 8-0 with a 69-66 triumph over the Blazers. The eight wins are the most by any DI school in 2020-21.
“It just feels great to have a team go out there and execute some stuff, and more importantly, fight,” Coach Lamont Paris shared. “They just fight. That’s what this team has shown through a lot of things that weren’t pretty. We didn’t execute on a couple things and didn’t perform on some shots that we normally make.
“We did fight. We clogged and got rebounds when we needed them. It feels good to come down here and get a road win against a good team in a good league.”
It ended similarly to Wednesday’s late win over UNC Asheville. The Mocs trailed by a possession with just over a minute left, 66-64. Stefan Kenić knotted it at 66 with two free throws. That’s when the Chattanooga five put up a stop sign on the Blazers end. Three key stops and a timely play on the offensive end cemented the win.
“After we got off to a slow start, we settled in to executing some rules defensively,” Paris added. “I thought that was the biggest part of it. We had some good stretches where we were able to keep them from scoring. I don’t think we had an unbelievable offensive day, but we had a pretty good variety offensive day.
“If you do enough defensively, I think that’s what you hope for. We finally settled in to guarding them a little better and that kept the press off when we would get stops.”
KC Hankton kept the ball moving to Jamaal Walker for the winning shot with 19.9 seconds on the clock. The two-point lead was perilous, but the Mocs prevailed. Tavin Lovan missed on a contested layup. Trey Jemison grabbed the board but lost it to Walker on the pass. It ended up with Malachi Smith.
Smith made it a three-point game with first of a one-plus-one. The second was off and 7.3 seconds started to tick. A foul in the front court inside four seconds sent Michael Ertel to the stripe for the Blazers. His free throw rimmed out and A.J. Caldwell collected the rebound. He was sent to the line with 1.8 left.
Caldwell’s effort was off and UAB quickly called time with 1.2 seconds on the clock. The inbounds pass made it to Ertel who quickly looped and launched. His effort looked on target but fell short for the victory.
Smith led the way with 16 points and 10 rebounds. He leads the country with six double-doubles. Trey Doomes added 15 points and seven boards, while Caldwell and Kenić chipped in 12 and 11, respectively. Ertel led all scores with 18 as Jemison grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds.
It looked bleak early. Jalen Benjamin’s jumper at 9:56 put the hosts ahead 26-16. The Mocs flipped that with a 17-2 run over the next seven minutes. Doomes steal and layup around the 5-minute mark gave his squad their first lead. The spurt was capped by two Kenić free throws with 2:56 left until intermission.
Chattanooga kept the pressure up on the offensive end early in the second half. The largest lead of 14, 55-41, came on a Doomes free throw with 12:40 left. UAB decided that was enough and began clawing back in the game.
It went on a 23-9 extended run over the next 11 minutes. Kassim Nicholson gave the home team its first lead since late first half with a put back at 1:18. That was the last Blazers tally.
The Mocs finish the pre-holiday schedule with the final road trip of 2020. The Tuesday tipoff at Tennessee State is at 3 p.m., Eastern time.