Last week when the Mocs learned that they would be without senior Dontay Hampton for the rest of the season, junior Z. Mason was called upon by his coach to fill that void.
His 14-point, seven-rebound performance against Georgia Southern – a typical stat line for the 6-5 forward – didn’t quite do that.
Instead, it was a freshman Gee McGhee that delivered down the stretch Saturday.
“I was thinking about ‘Tay, I was thinking about coach Shulman, I was thinking about the whole team,” McGhee said.
He tied a career-high with 19 points, 10 of which came in the final 8:26, and he was the one that head coach John Shulman turned to in the game’s closing seconds. Following the go-ahead 3-pointer by Eagles junior Eric Ferguson with 11.7 seconds remaining, the Mocs – trailing 57-55 – drew up the play during their final timeout.
“I decided earlier (on Saturday) that if we got in that situation I was giving the ball to Gee,” Shulman said. “Gee’s the one who can get to the paint.”
McGhee brought the ball up court in the waining moments, but instead of taking the ball strong to the rack – something he’d done nearly the entire second half – the 6-5 guard settled for a 3.
He got GSU defender Kameron Dunnican up in the air with a pump fake, leaned in and drew contact. An obvious foul if it had occurred in the game’s first 38 minutes, but the officials weren’t letting the bump determine the game’s outcome.
Instead, McGhee’s attempt didn’t even draw iron.
“We had Farad (Cobb) spotted in the right corner, Ronrico (White) spotted in the left corner,” Shulman said. “Drazen was coming up to set a flat ball screen for Gee. We wanted Gee to drive to the paint. If he didn’t like what he saw, he had Z. (Mason) coming behind on a little pitch back.”
When McGhee saw the Eagles big man leave his feet, though, he fired from deep.
“That’s just how it happened; I respect that (no) call,” said McGhee. “I’m just ready to regroup and get ready for the next one.”
It was simply another one of the seemingly never-ending learning experiences for the 18-year-old.
“We had the whole thing going, but that’s a lot to ask of a freshman; go make a play at the end of the game,” Shulman said. “One day Gee’s going to drive in there, make a shot and win the basketball game.”
McGhee might not have delivered at the end, but he was the main reason the Mocs were even in the game after facing a 21-point deficit with just over 16 minutes to play.
He did so by getting to the basket, though, not by settling for the outside shot.
“My first two shots (of the game) were from 3,” McGhee said. “The first one I missed, and on the second one I was fouled. They didn’t call it. I wasn’t mad, I just thought ‘okay, if I go to the goal, they’re going to have to call it.”
He did, and the referees responded accordingly.
A successful three-point play by McGhee put the Mocs in the bonus situation with 8:26 remaining, and just under three minutes later, he was fouled by Georgia Southern’s C.J. Reed – the Eagles’ 10th team foul – and UTC would be shooting a pair from the stripe from that point on.
“I just tried to expand my game a little bit,” McGhee said. “I started shooting a lot of free-throws; I got comfortable at the line.”
McGhee set career highs in free-throws made (12) and attempted (15) on Saturday, while the team shot 73 percent (22 of 30) from the stripe.
“It’s very simple to me,” Shulman said. “If you keep putting yourselves in this position – an opportunity to win – you’ve got a chance. Now when you’re down 25 at Elon with five to play, you don’t have a prayer. We’ve got to keep working and get better.
“I think they do believe that they can win; they do believe we can be successful.”
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.