The No. 1 seeded Chattanooga Mocs men’s basketball team survived a late run and held off No. 9 seeded The Citadel 71-66 in the quarterfinal round of the 2022 Ingles Southern Conference Championships on Saturday afternoon inside the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in Asheville, North Carolina.
With the win, Chattanooga improves to 25-7 overall this season and advances to the semifinal round for the second time in the past three seasons. The Citadel ends the 2021-22 campaign with a 13-18 record.
After a strong and efficient first half on both sides of the ball, Chattanooga led by as many as 16 in the half before taking a 14-point lead into the break. The Citadel came firing back with a 43-point second half charge, but ultimately saw UTC close out the game by converting on its final 10 free throw attempts to secure an always-coveted win in March.
“I thought the energy in the game and our attention to detail and our defensive mojo to start the game was incredible. And that carried us throughout the game,” said head coach Lamont Paris during the post-game presser.
“I thought it was a really clean [first] half for us defensively. They [The Citadel] have a good team. They have fighters, they’re relentless, they never stop. They have a lot of guys who can make shots and plays. We knew they were going to keep coming at us. They went on a run. Our guys are an older, veteran club, did a good job with not panicking.”
KC Hankton kick started the Chattanooga offense with a bucket in the paint and three at the top of the key to help the top seed grab a 10-5 lead at the first media timeout (14:54). The UTC offense continued to take charge over the next few minutes after an Avery Diggs layup capped off a 6-0 run to put the Mocs ahead 21-11 at the 10:16 mark.
The 10-point lead grew to 12, 25-13 (7:38), when Hankton scored his seventh point of the half on a driving layup from a great feed from Grant Ledford. After the Mocs went up 29-15, the offense hit a scoring drought of over four-plus minutes as The Citadel cut into the deficit with an 8-2 run to make it 31-23 with 2:21 left in the half.
A frantic finish to the half saw UTC score six-straight as Tada Stricklen converted a tip-in on a Malachi Smith miss right before the horn, sending the two teams to the locker room separated 37-23 in favor of Chattanooga. UTC shot 45.2% (14-of-31) from the floor while limiting the Bulldogs to a 30.8% (8-of-26) mark from the field including a 20.0% (2-of-10) tally from three.
The Citadel used a quick start in the second half to cut the deficit to single digits, 40-31 (17:01), before layups from David Jean-Baptiste and Smith allowed the lead to get back to 12, 44-32 (16:00). UTC extended it to 15, 52-37 (12:56), before the Bulldogs answered with an 11-0 run to pull within four, 52-48 (6:32).
Jean-Baptiste converted on a driving layup on the baseline to stop the run before the teams traded baskets as UTC hung on to a 56-50 edge with 5:19 left in the contest. It was Jean-Baptiste again who came up huge, connecting on his second three of the game to make it 59-50, before a Smith layup brought it to 61-50 with just 3:38 on the board.
Chattanooga closed things out down the stretch by converting on all 10 of its final free throw attempts as the squad didn’t allow The Citadel to get any closer than five over the game’s final five-plus minutes to secure a 71-66 victory.
The Mocs battled through a tough shooting day from beyond the arc as they connected on just 18.2% (4-of-22) of its threes while shooting at a 45.5% (25-of-55) clip in total from the field. UTC finished +11 on the glass behind a 39-28 advantage and earned a 38-34 edge in points in the paint.
Jean-Baptiste (20) and Smith (19) combined for 39 points for the winners while Hankton tied a season-high with 13 and added a game-high seven boards. Avery Diggs added a crucial six points and four rebounds while Silvio De Sousa grabbed six off the glass to aid the defensive efforts.