Mocs Capture SoCon Title With 83-77 Win Over ETSU
(gomocs.com) JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (February 23) — Sophomore Grant Ledford scored a career-high 25 points and knocked down seven three-pointers to help lift the Chattanooga Mocs men’s basketball team to its second Southern Conference regular season title since 1994 behind an 83-77 road victory over rival ETSU on Wednesday night inside Freedom Hall.
Following the win, Chattanooga improves to 23-7 overall and 13-4 in league play. The Mocs secured the No. 1 overall seed in the SoCon Tournament and earned an automatic berth into the National Invite Tournament (NIT). With Furman’s loss at Samford on Wednesday, UTC is outright champions. ETSU fell to 14-16 overall and 6-11 inside league play.
Ledford was nearly unconscious in the first half, knocking down six threes in eight attempts, to spark a long UTC run that allowed for a nine-point halftime lead. Despite a frantic finish from the trailing ETSU squad, Chattanooga controlled much of the contest in route to the conference-clinching win.
“I thought for 95 percent of the game, the guys were fantastic. Not only their play, but their energy, their emotion, their decision making,” said head coach Lamont Paris following the game.
“What a special, special group. I said that from day one. I’m so proud and happy for them. From where we started to where we are now, to get a conference championship, it’s not easy to do.”
HOW IT HAPPENED
After Malachi Smith opened the game with a three on the first possession, ETSU grabbed a 9-6 lead at the first media timeout after connecting on three of its first four attempts from beyond the arc. From that point, it was a Grant Ledford takeover from beyond the arc for much of the first half.
After tying the game at 16-16 with his third three in as many attempts, Ledford knocked down six of his first seven threes in total to allow Chattanooga to grab a 30-22 lead with 7:45 left in the opening half. A.J. Caldwell joined in on the action to give UTC a double-digit lead, 33-22 (4:38), before the guests finished the half up nine, 40-31.
Chattanooga shot 10-of-18 (55.6%) from deep in the opening half with Ledford leading the way with a blistering six-of-eight performance. Smith posted 12 points at the break on five-of-six shooting from the floor while the team finished shooting 41.2% (14-of-34).
ETSU cut into the lead early in the second half and pulled within six, 42-36, before a Smith jumper and a KC Hankton three extended the UTC lead back to nine, 47-36 (15:45). Chattanooga continued its surge with a 9-2 run to go ahead 55-38 with just under 12 minutes left in the game.
UTC continued to keep a sizable advantage over the rivaled Bucs in the second half as they kept the 17-point edge at 67-50 with 7:40 remaining. In the span of a minute, ETSU answered with five-straight points and forced a Chattanooga timeout with the score sitting at 69-57 (6:42).
ETSU would continue to claw its way back into the game over the final minutes, especially with under a minute. The Bucs cut the game to four, 81-77 (0:17), after forcing multiple UTC miscues and seeing its guests miss a couple key free throws. Banks sealed the deal with a pair of freebies with just 15 seconds left to secure the 83-77 victory.
Chattanooga and ETSU both shot the exact tallies from the floor, 47.5% (29-of-61), while the Mocs controlled the advantage from deep with a 44.8% (13-of-29) to 33.3% (7-of-21) difference. UTC earned a 39-32 victory on the glass and out-scored the Bucs bench by a wide 38-15 margin.
Ledford led all scorers with 25 points on seven three points (7-of-10) while adding in three rebounds and an assist. Smith posted another 20-point game, finishing with 20 in addition to grabbing nine boards and dishing out three helpers.
RECORDS – Chattanooga (23-7, 13-4 SoCon) – ETSU (14-16, 6-11 SoCon)
SERIES – Chattanooga now leads the all-time series 51-45.
NOTES TO KNOW
– Clinched 12th regular season Southern Conference Championship… ties the league record also held by Davidson albeit in 79 campaigns compared to 45 for Chattanooga… 13th all-time championship including 1923 SIAA… large portion of the Mocs basketball history was as a DII Independent before moving into the SoCon in 1977-78.
– 7-2 (.778) on the road in league play this season… rest of the SoCon entered today 16-41 (.281) in away league contests… 12-4 overall road sets new school record for road wins in a season… was held by 2015-16 team’s 11 (11-4).
– Career-high 25 points and seven 3pt made for Grant Ledford… 8-13 from the field including 7-10 from three and 2-2 from FT line.