Slow Start Haunts UTC Men’s Basketball in 80-75 Loss to VMI

The Chattanooga Mocs men’s basketball team found themselves in an early hole for the second time this week and suffered an 80-75 loss to VMI in Southern Conference action on Saturday afternoon inside McKenzie Arena.

Following the loss, Chattanooga falls to 22-8 overall, 12-4 in SoCon play, and is now just one came clear of Furman (11-5) in first place with two games remaining. VMI improves to 16-12 overall and 9-7 in league action.

The Mocs found themselves down by as much as 15 in the first half and ended up trailing by nine at the break. Even with VMI’s star Jake Stephens (injury) missing the final 30 minutes of the game, the UTC defensive struggled to find answers and get key stops down the stretch.

“I just thought, defensively, we couldn’t figure it out. I don’t think we were defensively competitive enough, honestly, as a general rule. I think it boiled down to that,” said head coach Lamont Paris post game.

“I talk about it all the time. The thing that is most important is competing and I don’t think we competed well enough. Not to take any credit away from them [VMI], they’re confident and good. They finished.”

VMI jumped out to an early 8-5 lead after connecting on a pair of threes ahead of the first media timeout at the 15:04 mark. Grant Ledford knocked down a triple in the corner to tie things at 10-10 before the Keydets controlled a 15-12 lead with 11:58 remaining in the half.

VMI continued its early charge with a 7-0 run to build a double-digit lead at 22-12 before holding a 24-16 lead at the under eight media break (7:52). David Jean-Baptiste accounted for seven of the team’s points at that juncture.

The Keydets reclaimed a double-digit lead with 2:38 left in the half, 32-22, before UTC closed the half with seven of the final 12 points to close the gap to eight, 37-29, at the break. Jean-Baptiste (9) and Avery Diggs (8) were the leading scorers for the Mocs as the hosts shot just a mere 36.4% (12-of-33) from the floor for the half.

Chattanooga cut the lead to six, 40-34, before the Keydets knocked down a pair of treys to go ahead 46-38 with 15:52 left in the contest. VMI continued to shoot at a high clip over the next few minutes as they continued to lead by multi-possessions, 58-49 (11:13).

UTC answered with a 11-3 run that was capped off by a driving Smith layup to cut the deficit to one, 61-60 (7:32). Smith put the Mocs ahead for the first time with a fast break layup, 67-65, with 4:55 on the board. The lead would last just 18 seconds as VMI responded with a deep three to pull ahead 68-67.

Chattanooga keep it within one a few different occasions down the stretch before the Keydets took a three-point lead, 78-75, with 28 ticks left. After an overturned out-of-bounds call with 10 seconds left, UTC had an opportunity to tie the game on its final possession. Smith’s three rattled out as VMI corralled the board and eventually knocked down two free throws to ice the 80-75 victory.

The stat lines were pretty much even in comparison of the two teams. The biggest difference was VMI’s five more made threes, 14-9, as the two teams each finished with 29 made field goals. UTC shot 43.3% (29-of-67) from the floor in the contest while the Keydets ended at a 48.3% (29-of-60) clip.

Smith eclipsed the 1,000-point mark at UTC and led all scorers with 28 points while notching a double-double with a game-high 10 rebounds. Jean-Baptiste added another double-digit scoring effort with 18 points while Banks produced a steady stat line of seven points, five assists and four rebounds.