CHATTANOOGA, Tenn.---Ronrico White and Casey Jones each tallied 20 points as the Chattanooga Mocs captured the Dr Pepper Classic title 86-80 over Maine tonight in McKenzie Arena. It’s the 16th time in the tourney’s 24 years the Mocs claimed the trophy and fifth time in the past six seasons.
“My understanding of the expectations of the Dr Pepper Classic was that we win it,” Head Coach Will Wade stated. “I think we’ve now won five of the last six tournaments, and it’s certainly the expectation that we play well and win it.
“It was good to do that,” he continued. “I thought the crowd was tremendous. It was great having the band play for us because they add tremendously to the atmosphere. They are giving up some of their holiday break to come cheer us on. We really appreciate them and the fans for supporting us.
“Some people see this as the kickoff to basketball season so hopefully we left a good impression.”
White and Jones sparked a second half comeback for Chattanooga. Tourney MVP Z. Mason had his third consecutive double-double with 15 points and a career-high 15 rebounds. Gee McGhee had his first double-double with 17 points and 10 assists.
The Black Bears were led by all-tournament team members Dmitry Akanda-Coronel and Shaun Lawton. Coronel had 24 points and six rebounds, while Lawton chipped in 10 points and nine assists.
Maine led by as many as 11, and were up 38-29 with 3:54 left in the opening frame when the Mocs made their charge. Jones’ free throws at 1:22 made it a one point affair, 40-39, before Coronel tallied the final three points of the half for a 43-39 Maine advantage.
Chattanooga’s Louisiana connection took over to start the second 20 minutes. McGhee and Jones scored on the first seven offensive possessions out of the break and had 19 consecutive points to stake their squad to a 58-47 lead with 14:05 remaining. That marked a 22-point swing as the Mocs out-scored the Black Bears over a 12:19 stretch.
It was a 10-point game, 64-54, after Greg Pryor canned a three-pointer with 11:30 to go. Maine went on a 15-4 run capped by a Troy Reid-Knight trey at 6:24 to get the lead back, 69-68.
White, who made the all-tournament team for the second year in a row, immediately answered with back-to-back threes at the other end as the Mocs re-took the lead for good, 74-69. Coronel got the Black Bears within one, 74-73, at 3:56, but Chattanooga held strong to the end for the six-point victory.
The Mocs hit a season-best 11 three-pointers in 25 attempts (44%) for the game. They shot 51.7 percent (31-60) overall from the field and won the battle of the boards 41-36, 24-15 in the second half.
Kilian Cato came off the bench to post 12 points and five rebounds for the Black Bears. Troy Reid-Knight and Christian Ejiga also scored in double figures with 10 apiece. Reid-Knight added four rebounds, five assists and two steals.
“I am really proud of Ronrico White,” Wade added. “I thought he was tremendous and is coming into his own playing at a really high level for us. Gee McGhee played really well tonight. He prepared really well and it paid off with a phenomenal performance.
“Z. with 15 rebounds really helped us,” he concluded. “I have been harping on how we need him on the boards, and that was never more apparent than in this tournament and going into conference play.”
The Mocs return to action in the New Year with the opening of the Southern Conference slate. They tackle Furman at 4 p.m., Saturday in Greenville, S.C., before traveling on to Charleston for a Monday night matchup with The Citadel at 7 p.m.