Smith, Jean-Baptiste Come Up Clutch in 78-74 Win at VMI

Malachi Smith hit the go-ahead jumper while David Jean-Baptiste came away with a crucial steal to help the Chattanooga Mocs men’s basketball team seal a 78-74 win on the road at VMI in Southern Conference action inside Cameron Hall on Saturday afternoon.

Following the win, Chattanooga caps off a perfect road trip and improves to 16-4 overall and remains atop the SoCon standings at 6-1. VMI falls to 11-9 overall and 4-4 in league play.

Trailing 74-73 with under a minute remaining, Smith knocked down a highly-contested jumper to put Chattanooga ahead 75-74 with 42 seconds left. With a chance to tie it for VMI, Jean-Baptiste picked off a kickback pass that later led to game-sealing free throws on the other end.

“I have a couple things on my brain right now. What a hard place to play. What a hard place. I don’t care what you think you have as a team, who you have, how you’re playing, it’s so hard,” said head coach Lamont Paris postgame.

“What an awesome, gritty, and tough-it-out kind of game against a good team. That’s a really good team. It’ll be a nice trip home now.”

VMI came out hot from behind the three-point line, knocking down three of its first four attempts to help build an 11-7 lead at the 15:16 mark of the opening half. David Jean-Baptiste hit a three early on and hit another a few minutes later to keep UTC within a possession at 13-10 (13:35).

Chattanooga pulled within two, 16-14 (12:27), on a pair of Josh Ayeni free throws before the Keydets went on a 7-2 run to extend the lead to seven, 23-16 (10:02). The Mocs went to the paint and saw buckets from Silvio De Sousa and Grant Ledford to once again pull within two, 25-23 (7:47).

After VMI took a 28-23 lead, Chattanooga stormed back with a 9-1 run on the help of Jean-Baptiste’s third three of the half and buckets from Malachi Smith and Darius Banks to pull ahead 32-29 with 3:59 remaining.

Banks came away with a steal and threw down a thunderous dunk to extend the UTC lead to eight, 41-33 (1:43). VMI would score the final four points of the half to send the two teams into the break with a 41-37 Chattanooga advantage. UTC shot 53.3% (16-of-30) from the floor which included a 36.4% (4-of-11) mark from beyond the arc in the first half.

The Mocs scored eight of the second half’s first 13 points to extend the four-point edge at the break to seven, 49-42 (14:31). UTC held VMI scoreless for over two-and-a-half minutes during that span while forcing three turnovers and three fouls.

The lead would stretch to as much as 10 after Smith knocked down a triple at the top of the key to make it 59-49 in favor of the visitors with 10:25 remaining in the game. VMI cut it to three with a 7-0 run before Grant Ledford knocked down a corner three to push it back to six, 62-56 (7:51).

The Keydets would hit three-straight threes on the next three offensive possessions to jump ahead 65-64 with 5:49 remaining in the game. A.J. Caldwell bagged a crucial three on the next possession to put UTC back in front 67-65 (5:21).

The last five minutes went back-and-forth which later created a 74-73 lead for home team with just 1:24 left on the clock. Smith and Jean-Baptiste took over down the stretch as the former hit a jumper at the top of the key with 42 seconds left and the latter securing a steal on the other end with 16 second, sealing another road win for UTC.

Smith led all scorers with 25 points while chipping in with five rebounds and a career-high six steals. Jean-Baptiste followed a career performance last season (29 points) in Cameron Hall with 15 points while Banks (10) and De Sousa (13) both reached double digits in scoring. Banks added a team-high seven rebounds in the winning effort.

Chattanooga shot 48.1% (25-of-52) from the floor while knocking down its season average of eight threes (8-of-20, 40.0%). The Mocs defense forced 16 VMI turnovers which led to 23 points and limited one of the country’s top three-point shooting teams to just four threes in the second half.