Stingy Defense Leads UTC Past Wofford

The Chattanooga Mocs men’s basketball team earned its fourth-straight Southern Conference victory after a strong defensive effort led to a 71-60 win over the Wofford Terriers on Wednesday night inside an energetic McKenzie Arena.

Following the win, Chattanooga improves to 17-4 overall and remains a half-game up in the SoCon standings at 7-1. Wofford falls to 12-9 overall and 4-5 inside league play.

Coach Lamont Paris agreed to donate $1 for every ticket sold tonight to the American Cancer Society as part of the Coaches vs. Cancer annual campaign. Tonight’s announced game attendance was 3,211, leading to a solid $3,211 contribution to a great cause from Paris.

“I was hoping we’d get a packed house,” Paris laughed after the game. “But I thought it was a good crowd. That is a scrappy team. They have a lot of guys that can shoot the ball from three and it was a physical game.

“I am happy with the guys, how they competed and beating a great team is always a plus. It’s a special group of guys and I really enjoy coaching them. I feel blessed being able to coach them. These are their days and that makes it my favorite days.”

Wofford opened the game with a pair of threes in its first three attempts of the game while Malachi Smith and David Jean-Baptiste each connected on triples of their own to allow for a 10-8 Wofford edge at the first media timeout (15:32).

After three points from Avery Diggs and a couple defensive stops, Smith nailed a step-back three in front of the visiting bench to put UTC ahead for the first time, 16-14, with 9:56 left in the opening half. The threes continued to fall for hosts as Darius Banks hit the team’s fourth to extend the lead to 23-17 at the 7:41 mark.

The lead grew to eight, 27-19, on Banks’ seventh point of the half coming via a backdoor layup off a feed from KC Hankton with 4:38 on the clock. It was Banks again from beyond the arc down the first half stretch that helped the squad take a 32-23 lead into the break after key defensive stops from Josh Ayeni.

Banks had a game-high 10 points at the break where the team shot 12-of-26 (46.2%) from the floor and 5-of-10 (50.0%) from three-point land. The Mocs were edged on the glass in the opening half 19-16 (8-3 on the offensive side) but forced five Wofford turnovers to help create the separation.

Jean-Baptiste kicked off the second half with an uncontested layup to put the hosts up double digits ahead of a few traded baskets and a Wofford three that cut their deficit to eight, 36-28 (16:52). The Terriers cut it to six at 42-36 before Smith went coast-to-coast after a steal and converted an and-one to put UTC up 45-36 at the 12:12 mark of the second half.

The closest Wofford would get in the second half would be five, 50-45 (7:33), as the Chattanooga defense came away with multiple stops which led to timely buckets on the offense end to keep a comfortable distance. UTC capped off a 9-2 run from that point on five-straight points from Smith to build a 59-47 (5:21) lead.

The Mocs kept separation down the stretch on the help of treys from Hankton and A.J. Caldwell and conversions on its last four free throw attempts to seal the 71-60 win. Smith tied a game-high with 18 points while adding in seven rebounds in addition to double-digit scoring efforts from Jean-Baptiste (13) and Banks (12). Caldwell posted eight points, six boards and five assists to stuff the stat sheet.

Chattanooga reached its magic number from behind the arc (44.0%, 11-of-25) to move to 10-0 this season when shooting north of 40 percent. The Mocs shot an efficient 49.1% (26-of-53) in total from the floor and limited Wofford to a season-low 33.9% (20-of-59) field-goal percentage and a lowly 26.5% (9-of-34) mark from three.