Live by the jump shot, die by the jump shot.
That’s a coaching adage in basketball that described Chattanooga perfectly last season. Try as coach John Shulman might, he couldn’t convince his team that there were easier ways to score than hoisting jump shots. The result: more often than not in a 21-loss season, the Mocs died by the jumper.
Maybe Shulman could have used a game like Monday night’s season opener against Tennessee Temple to illustrate his message. Points can be generated in a lot of different ways, even by defense.
The Mocs struggled from the field (29 for 70) and were woeful from beyond the 3-point arc (2 for 22). Yet they still managed an 88-53 win.
Shulman wasn’t thrilled with his team’s lackluster shooting performance, but unlike in recent seasons, he could live with it.
“Could last year’s team go 2-for-22 and win by 35?” Shulman said. “I don’t care who they were playing, the answer is no. We had to shoot it well to win. We don’t this year. We’re not going to rely on that. If we shoot it well we win by 50.”
Instead, UTC (1-0) cruised to its 35-point victory with a combination of relentless defensive pressure and domination on the glass.
“We tried to do the simple things,” said junior forward Z. Mason, who scored a game-high 16 points in just 19 minutes. “Hustle, show effort and just play hard. It’s our first game and a lot of the guys are young. They had a lot of jitters. We just told them to do the simple things – play defense, rebound – the game will come to you. Do the small things.”
The undersized Mocs outrebounded Tennessee Temple 49-28, got to the free-throw line 41 times, forced a school-record 23 steals and scored 44 points off turnovers.
The way Shulman sees it, that’s the winning formula.
“I thought we did a fantastic job on the glass,” Shulman said. “They have been dominating people on the glass. Why are they dominating people on the glass? Well, it’s who they’ve played. No. They dominate people on the glass because they’re 7-foot-2, 7-foot-1, 6-foot-9 and 6-foot-8.”
Senior Drazen Zlovaric pulled down a game-high eight boards, sophomore Jared Bryant had seven, and Mason and sophomore Martynas Bareika each finished with five.
“I thought (Zlovaric) played poorly and he had great stats because he did a great job going to the glass,” Shulman said. “He ends up with 11 (points) and eight (rebounds) on a bad night.”
And while Chattanooga’s five freshmen didn’t dazzle anyone on offense, they made up for it on the defensive end.
“I guess coach knew we were going to be anxious and not shoot it well,” freshman point guard Farad Cobb said. “He just told us to focus on defense and rebounding, so that’s what I tried to do.”
Cobb, who played 20 minutes off the bench, set a UTC freshman record with six steals, while freshmen Eric Robertson (three steals), Casey Jones (two) and Gee McGhee (two) wreaked havoc in the Crusaders’ backcourt as well.
“You wait until you see all these kids five or six games down the road,” Shulman said. “They were in a panic tonight. It was good for them.”
It’s not going to get any easier for Chattanooga’s youngsters, though, at least not right away. The Mocs travel to Kansas on Thursday to face the seventh-ranked Jayhawks.
“We have one practice before we play the No. 7 team in America,” Shulman said. “You talk about a great experience for our kids. We’re going to take that experience and get better, then we’ll take next Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and get better. Win or lose, we’ve just got to continue to get better.”
Michael Murphy covers Chattanooga athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.