Just when it looked as though the Chattanooga Mocs were going to run away with the Southern Conference regular season title, they hit a couple of speed bumps over the past couple of weeks.
Coming into Saturday afternoon, the Mocs were just 2-2 in their last four games, and were coming off an upset loss at the hands of the UNC-Greensboro Spartans in their last outing. The recent stretch has allowed the East Tennessee State Buccaneers to creep up on the Mocs, but Chattanooga still has a game in hand on the Bucs.
On the day that the Mocs honoured their seniors, they welcomed the Samford Bulldogs to town. After a strong start to the season, the Bulldogs are now playing for pride and for seeding in the Southern Conference tournament.
With the exception of a 16-second window in the opening minute of the game, the Mocs never trailed in the contest. Things got tight down the stretch, but Chattanooga pulled away from Samford for the 77-66 victory.
On their first offensive possession of the game, freshman Wyatt Walker put the Bulldogs up early with a layup. Little did we know at the time, but that would be the only time in the game that Samford held the lead.
Chattanooga would get on the board after Walker’s basket on a jumper from Chuck Ester, and the Mocs were off from there.
The Bulldogs were able to tie the game on a few instances in the first half, but were never able to retake a lead of their own. A three pointer from Dee Oldham stretched the Mocs’ lead to 14 points at the 4:51 mark of the first half, their biggest of the opening 20 minutes.
Samford was able to cut into the lead before the half was out, getting to within 40-35 before the break.
Chattanooga continued to hold onto their lead in the second half, despite Samford getting to within a basket on multiple occasions throughout the final 20 minutes of the contest.
With 3:09 to play, Walker made one-of-two free throws to bring the Bulldogs to within 3, at 64-61, but that was as close as they would get down the stretch. Tre’ McLean hit a pair of free throws shortly thereafter, and he followed that up with a jumper to push Chattanooga back in front by 7.
Timely free throw shooting from Oldham and Greg Pryor in the closing two minutes propelled the Mocs to the 77-66 victory over the Samford Bulldogs.
While the score remained close down to the wire, there was never much doubt as to who would come away with the victory.
For the visiting Samford Bulldogs, freshman big man Wyatt Walker was held in check for most of the afternoon. Walker was limited to just 7 points, on 3-of-5 shooting, and 4 rebounds before fouling out.
Darius Jones-Gibson scored 15 points in the loss, while Christen Cunningham scored a game-high 17 points to go along with 2 assists and 2 steals.
A balanced scoring attack led the way for the Chattanooga Mocs on Senior Night, as five different players scored in double figures. Eric Robertson scored a team-high 15 points to go along with 3 assists, while Dee Oldham chipped in with 11 off the bench.
Tre’ McLean finished the day with 10 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals in the victory.
With the loss, the Samford Bulldogs (13-18, 4-14) missed out on an opportunity to improve their standing in the Southern Conference standings. They now turn their attention to the conference tournament, which gets under way on Friday, March 4th. Samford will take on the VMI Keydets, with the winner earning a match-up with the #1 seed in the quarter-finals.
The win kept the Chattanooga Mocs (25-5, 14-3) a half-game ahead of East Tennessee State for the Southern Conference regular season title with a game in hand. Chattanooga will close out the regular season on Monday, February 29th when they head on the road to take on VMI. With a win, the Mocs earn the Southern Conference regular season title outright.