The Chattanooga Mocs came back from a sluggish start to claim a 74-67 win at Western Carolina Wednesday night. The trio of Malachi Smith (22), David Jean-Baptiste (18) and Darius Banks (18) combined for 58 of the 74 points but multiple student-athletes made a difference in this one.
Cory Hightower’s two free throws with 14:26 to go in the first gave Western its largest lead of eight, 45-37. The Cats scored 17 points in the first 5:24 to seemingly take control of the game. Smith and Jean-Baptiste scored on three straight possessions before KC Hankton knotted the score at 45-all at the 12:37 mark.
Smith’s layup two minutes later gave his squad its first lead, but the Cats clawed back. Xavier Cork’s layup at 8:33 got the home team back on top, 52-51, but the Mocs were on the move. Hankton’s jumper five minutes later capped a 13-2 spurt gaining a 10-point advantage, 64-54. The first 11 of the run came from Jean-Baptiste and Banks. It never got closer than six.
Smith (5) and Jean-Baptiste (4) both tied career highs for steals as the Mocs were a +7 in turnover margin (9/16). Cork led five in double digits for Western Carolina with 18. He was joined by Mason Faulkner (13), Matt Halvorsen (12), Hightower (11) and Tyler Harris (11).
There was a big swing in shooting making the difference between a first half tie and second half win. The Mocs managed just 34.3 percent (12-35) overall including 39.1 percent (9-23) INSIDE the arc in the opening 20. They closed making 20 of 31 (64.5%) after the break with a more palatable 18-26 (69.2%) performance on two-point attempts.
Tonight was the start of a three-game road swing. The Mocs head to ETSU Saturday for a 4 p.m., tipoff in a game originally scheduled for the Roundhouse. The home matchup moved to Monday, Feb. 15, after last Wednesday’s postponement in Johnson City. Watch on ESPN+ or over over the airwaves in Chattanooga via WFLI 97.7 FM and 1070 AM.