CHARLESTON, S.C. – Chattanooga head coach John Shulman could feel it from the opening seconds. Saturday’s game against College of Charleston wasn’t going to go great.
“They were either going to be moping or they were going to be really mad,” Shulman said.
The Cougars (11-5, 3-1 Southern Conference) came into the game with Thursday’s home loss to Samford still fresh in their minds, and they appeared itching to take the surprising setback out on someone.
Unfortunately for the visiting Mocs, it was them.
“(College of Charleston) has been sleepwalking and winning games,” Shulman said. “They’ve learned the hard way you can’t do that, and we just got punished because of it.”
The Mocs (7-10, 2-2), coming off of conseuctive SoCon road wins over Samford and The Citadel, were nearly run out of building on Saturday as the Cougars cruised to a 86-59 victory.
Chattanooga’s deficit was just as big at the break.
“We still tried to keep playing as hard as we could,” said UTC sophomore Ronrico White, who finished with a team-high 10 points. “We just couldn’t get stops tonight, we got killed on the glass and didn’t make shots. We as a team, myself included, have to play better than that. That’s unacceptable.”
UTC, which allowed an opponent to score 50 points in the opening period for the first time since March 2010, started the game 1 of 11 from the field, committed 11 first-half turnovers, and simply could not keep the Cougars off the glass.
College of Charleston’s Adjehi Baru and company had their way with Chattanooga’s frontcourt all game long. The Mocs were outrebounded by a season-high 14 boards while being outscored 40-20 in the paint.
While his stat line might not show it, Baru, who finished with 11 points and nine rebounds, was absolutely dominant. He collected two blocked shots, but simply seeing the 6-9 forward in the paint was enough to affect several UTC shots.
“He’s long,” Chattanooga freshman Gee McGhee said. “If you go in there, nothing is going to be easy. He did what he was supposed to do. We knew he was long, but we didn’t think he would be all over the place. He did a great job holding his hands up, not jumping for everything; just doing what a big man is supposed to do.”
Mason and senior center Drazen Zlovaric finished a combined 4-for-22 from the field for 11 points.
“Their physicality, not only on the glass but defending, getting through screens and not letting us set screens, took us completely out of whack from the first second,” Shulman said. “They won the physicality battle and whipped our tail.”
The sophomore from Abidjan, Ivory Coast, also provided the play of the game for the Cougars, somehow corralling a lob pass from point guard Andrew Lawrence with one hand before slamming it home to give his team a 68-38 advantage with 12:09 remaining.
The impressive alley-oop brought the 3,722 fans in attendance to their feet, and if the game wasn’t already over, it certainly was after that.
“That’s just a high-level play,” White said. “That sealed it for them.”
Senior Dontay Hampton, who finished with 11 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals in his season debut at The Citadel on Thursday, wasn’t near as impressive Saturday.
“Dontay didn’t have the juice today that he had the other night, so we weren’t going to play him a whole lot,” Shulman said. “His night was over once the score got crazy.”
The 6-1 guard finished with five points on in just 14 minutes of action.
The Mocs, who concluded their string of four straight road games with Saturday’s lopsided loss, will finally return to their home floor on Thursday when Chattanooga takes on Appalachian State at McKenzie Arena.
“We caught (CofC) at a bad time,” Shulman said. “I feel like we’ve been down here for three months, and it’s time for us to take our split, go home and get better. This woke us up. This did not deter us. It happens. We were feeling good about ourselves – maybe too good – so you live, learn and move forward.”
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.