Chattanooga women’s basketball coach Wes Moore doesn’t have many grey hairs, but the few he does have must come from games like the one Monday night at McKenzie Arena.
The Lady Mocs led by as much as 21 points early in the second half, but College of Charleston made a furious comebackmidway through the final period, eventually trimming its deficit to two with 3:30 remaining.
“We’ve got the kids that have been through the wars and know how to make plays when we have to have them, but when things start to unravel and the other team’s getting happy, I definitely wasn’t comfortable,” Moore said. “I was feeling it.”
Chattanooga (12-3, 5-1 Southern Conference), which led by 18 at the break, endured a 25-4 second-half run by the visiting Lady Cougars, during which Moore was charged a technical foul, and UTC didn’t hit a single field goal during the nearly 12-minute stretch.
“We made things interesting, that’s for sure,” Moore said. “It got a little scary there down the stretch, but when we had to have it we had some people step up.”
Lady Mocs junior Ashlen Dewart finally her team’s scoring drought with a layup at the 2:03 mark, and the 6-4 post player, who finished with a game-high 26 points and eight rebounds, scored seven of the team’s final 11 points to help secure a 64-53 victory.
“We have a lot of veterans on this team, and it does help us keep our composure,” said Dewart, who churned out her seventh 20-plus point performance of the season Monday. “It does rattle you a bit whenever your lead gets away, but it’s part of being a leader on the team and a veteran.”
Senior Kayla Christopher also came up big in the closing minutes, knocking down all eight of her free-throw attempts in the final 7:47 of play.
“They fought back, you have to give them credit,” Christopher said. “They played really hard in the second half and made a game of it, but I’m really proud of us for sticking to it. I think we made big plays when we had to and knocked down free-throws.”
Unlike a week ago, when UTC shot less than 50 percent from the free-throw line in its 70-60 overtime loss at Elon, the Lady Mocs did a much better job from the stripe on Monday, especially late.
They finished 17 of 23 (73.9 percent) from the line, and 15 of 21 (71.4 percent) in the final 20 minutes. It’s a good thing, too, because Chattanooga’s field goal shooting in the second half – 7 of 24 (29.2 percent) certainly wasn’t going to carry the team to a victory.
“It’s going to happen,” Christopher said. “It’s just the way it goes. Those are the times we have to step up our defense and rebounding. Coach Moore always says that’s when great teams win; when they can win without having a great shooting night.”
The Lady Mocs, who never trailed in the contest, pulled away late in the first half with a 13-2 run in the final 5:33 of the period.
Christopher, who was held scoreless for the first 16:42, hit a 3-pointer with 3:18 left in the first half to extend UTC’s lead to 27-15, and the 5-9 guard added her second trey – the 200th of her career – with 1:32 left to give the Lady Mocs a 35-17 halftime advantage.
Christopher finished with 16 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals, while junior forward Taylor Hall added 12 points, three boards, three assists, two blocked shots and a steal. Senior Kylie Lambert, who finished with just one point, brought down a game-high 10 rebounds for her second straight double-digit performance on the glass and third of the season.
UTC returns to action Friday when the team travels to Davidson, N.C., to take on the Lady Wildcats. It will be the first of a three-game road swing for the Lady Mocs, who travel to Western Carolina on Jan. 20 and Samford on Jan. 23.
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.