Slow starts have become a commonplace for Chattanooga this season, but the Mocs outdid themselves in Saturday’s 63-52 loss to visiting Eastern Kentucky.
Standout guard Glenn Cosey connected on a contested 3-pointer for the Colonels less than 20 seconds into the contest, and just moments later, UTC sophomore Ronrico White made an ill-advised pass to the post that was picked off.
That pretty much sums up how the first four minutes played out Saturday at McKenzie Arena, as the Mocs faced a double-digit deficit before they took their first shot at the 17:05 mark.
“The speed of their defense got us early,” Chattanooga coach John Shulman said. “We just had a horrendous start; we were rattled from the start.”
Chattanooga turned the ball over on seven of its first eight trips down the floor.
“They got wide in the passing lanes,” said White, who was responsible for four of Chattanooga’s 21 turnovers. “They really weren’t allowing us to enter our offense, and that forced me to penetrate and try to make plays. I just wasn’t doing that. I turned it over. I just can’t do that.”
Eastern Kentucky’s defensive pressure definitely dictated play in the first half.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the court, the Colonels were clicking. EKU knocked down three of its first five shots from beyond the arc and held a 14-1 advantage with 14:52 remaining.
Cosey, who finished with a game-high 23 points, hit six 3-pointers – four in the first half – while senior Mike DiNunno added 14 points and six assists.
The Mocs showed some signs of life in the final 35 minutes of action, especially late in the second half, but too much damage had already been done, and the unbeaten Colonels collected their ninth win of the season.
“The fight we showed was pretty good,” Shulman said. “It was something to build on. We needed something to build on and that was something. They’re a good basketball team, and we’re a team that’s still kind of searching. That’s okay. If we’ll play as hard as we played the last 12 minutes, we can find ourselves.”
Chattanooga (2-6), which was behind 33-18 at the break, trailed by as much as 23 in the second half, but when the Mocs stepped up the defensive pressure, that deficit started to shrink. EKU turned the ball over 12 times in the second period, and UTC used a 10-0 run to trim its deficit to 56-43 with 4:07 left to play.
“We did a good job of trying to fight back,” White said. “Our coach is a fighter, and he wants us to reflect that. I think we did a good job with that, especially better than last Saturday night (an 81-55 loss to Davidson).”
Senior Drazen Zlovaric scored 12 points and was the only UTC player to reach double figures. The 6-9 center and junior forward Z. Mason were limited to a combined 10 shots from the field. Freshman guard Gee McGhee finished with eight points, and sophomore Martynas Bareika provided a spark off the bench with seven.
“This wasn’t the championship game in the SoCon,” Shulman said. “We’re not packing up our stuff after this game. We’re just a young basketball team trying to find our way.”
The Mocs return to action Tuesday when they travel to Baton Rouge, La., to face another unbeaten squad, the LSU Tigers.
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.