A.J. Caldwell made one shot all game, but it was at the right time draining a three with 1.0 on the clock to beat ETSU 67-65 in Southern Conference play Saturday afternoon. It came just over 10 seconds after a Bucs dagger to the collective hearts of Mocs fans set up this dramatic conclusion.
“Malachi was supposed to get a look at the rim but then a couple fumbles happened, and I heard Tyler [Dobratz] our strength coach counting down,” Caldwell explained. “I knew I had to get a shot off and maybe we could get an offensive rebound. Gladly it went in and we were able to win. I originally caught it, and there was nothing there so I took a dribble to the left and got a glimmer of the rim and got the shot up quick so they couldn’t block it and that probably helped me because normally my shot is usually flat.
“It just went in.”
The Mocs led by as many as 16 in the game, but the Bucs clawed back. They took their first lead on Ty Brewer’s 3pt with 11.9 seconds on the clock. Malachi Smith brought the ball up after an ETSU timeout. He got to the top of the key, looked left and pivoted back right to see Caldwell on the wing. He rose up over two Bucs and drained it from 24 feet for the win, the first at ETSU since 2016.
“Exactly how we drew it up,” Coach Lamont Paris grinned like the Cheshire cat. “It was a scramble. We had the ball in Malachi’s hand and set a drag ball screen at the top to spread the floor and get KC [Hankton] and Malachi in a good situation. We wanted to try and attack the rim if we could because they wouldn’t want to foul.
“He attacked and there were two guys on him, A.J. saw his man helped just a little bit and got a catch and shoot. We just wanted to get something with the flow of our offense moving to the basket and any threes that we would look at is because of an over help situation.”
While A.J. had the final points, Smith and David Jean-Baptiste led the way with 18 apiece. Darius Banks added 14. Damari Monsanto led all scorers with 22 points matching Smith for game-high honors on the glass with seven. David Sloan added 14 points and eight assists for ETSU.
Chattanooga led by six, 33-27, at the break after a late three by Jean-Baptiste sent them into the locker room with momentum. The Mocs scored the first eight of the first 10 points out of the break and maintained a comfortable advantage. Smith’s three-point play at 6:44 made it a 16-point affair, 58-42.
Monsanto scored seven in a 10-0 burst closing the gap to 58-52 with three free throws at 5:11. Hankton’s layup with 2:25 left got it back to eight, 62-54. But the Bucs scored 11 of the next 13 points capped by Brewer’s near heroics. Then there was A.J.
The three-game road trip ends Wednesday night at Wofford. The Mocs 7 p.m., start airs on ESPN+ or over the airwaves in Chattanooga via WFLI 97.7 FM and 1070 AM.