Special Game Review: Mocs come up just short against #10 Vols

Last night, for the first time in my lifetime, the Tennessee Vols basketball team made the short trip south to McKenzie Arena in Chattanooga to take on one of their top in-state competitors. A record crowd of 11,221 was on hand to see the #10-ranked Vols, and I had to be part of it. As a result, you’re getting this review.

Entering the game, the Mocs were rated #194 in Division-I by KenPom, while the Vols were #15. Based on his Pythagorean win percentages, the Vols should win about 98% of the time against the Mocs on a neutral court. Even though UTC was at home, that’s essentially what the Roundhouse was: a neutral court. Honestly, I expected a better turnout from the UT fans, since Knoxville is just 90 miles up the road. Chattanooga and UTC turned out remarkably well, I thought.

The spread was probably right on the money at -14.5 for the Vols, and it seemed apparent that they would try to run up the score and show up their in-state foe. About 10 minutes into the game, though, it became clear that the Vols were not going to be able to accomplish that.

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From the quick stats, it’s not apparent that this was really a story of two halves. In the first half, UTC dominated the glass and shot fairly well, but they turned it over enough to let Tennessee stay ahead almost from the opening tip. In the second half, the Mocs went cold, scoring just 12 points in the first 18 minutes of play. The end result has to be uncomfortable for the Knoxville folks, as it was a more closely-contested game than probably anyone thought it would be.

The top performers for UT were probably Tyler Smith and Chris Lofton, even though neither was playing up to the standard that has been set for them. Smith had a relatively pedestrian 10 points and 5 rebounds, while Lofton shot just 4-for-13 and had 4 turnovers, even though he led the team with 16 points. Five Vols scored in double figures, including T. Smith, Lofton, JaJuan Smith (4-of-16 shooting), Jordan Howell, and Ramar Smith.

Five Mocs also scored in double figures, led by Stephen McDowell’s 14.  Marcus Watts, Nicchaeus Doaks, Matt Gwynne, and Kevin Goffney round out those players, and Watts added 10 rebounds to his stat line.  Four Mocs had at least 5 turnovers, and they were the same players as above, less McDowell, who had just one to go with his team-leading 4 assists.  The Mocs had 34 total turnovers, which along with their relatively poor three-point shooting (26%, worse than UT) proved to be their undoing.

Despite the loss, I was impressed with the way the Mocs hung with the Vols, who did not look like a Top 10 team in this game.  Despite their athleticism, the Vols were pounded inside the arc by the SoCon’s second-best team.  Combine that weakness with their near-total reliance on the three-point shot (over half their shots were threes), and that’s a recipe for only occasional success against competent opposition.  With Xavier and Gonzaga on the Vols’ schedule in the coming weeks, they will certainly be tested.

As for the Mocs’ future, they jumped to the middle of the D-I pack in KenPom’s rankings after this game, and things are looking up.  Truth be told, the 4-4 Mocs have lost to good teams (Indiana, SIU, UT, and even South Alabama perhaps), and they look like a solid bet to contend for the position of Davidson’s bridesmaid in the Southern Conference, possibly having a chance at the NCAA Tournament.

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