Mocs return from road trip perfect, beating VMI 78-74

LEXINGTON, Va. (UTC Athletics) — Malachi Smith hit the go-ahead jumper while David Jean-Baptiste came away with a crucial steal to help the Chattanooga Mocs men’s basketball team seal a 78-74 win on the road at VMI in Southern Conference action inside Cameron Hall on Saturday afternoon.

Following the win, Chattanooga caps off a perfect road trip and improves to 16-4 overall and remains atop the SoCon standings at 6-1. VMI falls to 11-9 overall and 4-4 in league play.

Trailing 74-73 with under a minute remaining, Smith knocked down a highly-contested jumper to put Chattanooga ahead 75-74 with 42 seconds left. With a chance to tie it for VMI, Jean-Baptiste picked off a kickback pass that later led to game-sealing free throws on the other end.

“I have a couple things on my brain right now. What a hard place to play. What a hard place. I don’t care what you think you have as a team, who you have, how you’re playing, it’s so hard,” said head coach Lamont Paris postgame.

“What an awesome, gritty, and tough-it-out kind of game against a good team. That’s a really good team. It’ll be a nice trip home now.”

HOW IT HAPPENED
VMI came out hot from behind the three-point line, knocking down three of its first four attempts to help build an 11-7 lead at the 15:16 mark of the opening half. David Jean-Baptiste hit a three early on and hit another a few minutes later to keep UTC within a possession at 13-10 (13:35).

Chattanooga pulled within two, 16-14 (12:27), on a pair of Josh Ayeni free throws before the Keydets went on a 7-2 run to extend the lead to seven, 23-16 (10:02). The Mocs went to the paint and saw buckets from Silvio De Sousa and Grant Ledford to once again pull within two, 25-23 (7:47).

After VMI took a 28-23 lead, Chattanooga stormed back with a 9-1 run on the help of Jean-Baptiste’s third three of the half and buckets from Malachi Smith and Darius Banks to pull ahead 32-29 with 3:59 remaining.

Banks came away with a steal and threw down a thunderous dunk to extend the UTC lead to eight, 41-33 (1:43). VMI would score the final four points of the half to send the two teams into the break with a 41-37 Chattanooga advantage. UTC shot 53.3% (16-of-30) from the floor which included a 36.4% (4-of-11) mark from beyond the arc in the first half.

The Mocs scored eight of the second half’s first 13 points to extend the four-point edge at the break to seven, 49-42 (14:31). UTC held VMI scoreless for over two-and-a-half minutes during that span while forcing three turnovers and three fouls.

The lead would stretch to as much as 10 after Smith knocked down a triple at the top of the key to make it 59-49 in favor of the visitors with 10:25 remaining in the game. VMI cut it to three with a 7-0 run before Grant Ledford knocked down a corner three to push it back to six, 62-56 (7:51).

The Keydets would hit three-straight threes on the next three offensive possessions to jump ahead 65-64 with 5:49 remaining in the game. A.J. Caldwell bagged a crucial three on the next possession to put UTC back in front 67-65 (5:21).

The last five minutes went back-and-forth which later created a 74-73 lead for home team with just 1:24 left on the clock. Smith and Jean-Baptiste took over down the stretch as the former hit a jumper at the top of the key with 42 seconds left and the latter securing a steal on the other end with 16 second, sealing another road win for UTC.

Smith led all scorers with 25 points while chipping in with five rebounds and a career-high six steals. Jean-Baptiste followed a career performance last season (29 points) in Cameron Hall with 15 points while Banks (10) and De Sousa (13) both reached double digits in scoring. Banks added a team-high seven rebounds in the winning effort.

Chattanooga shot 48.1% (25-of-52) from the floor while knocking down its season average of eight threes (8-of-20, 40.0%). The Mocs defense forced 16 VMI turnovers which led to 23 points and limited one of the country’s top three-point shooting teams to just four threes in the second half.

RECORDS – Chattanooga (16-4, 6-1 SoCon) – VMI (11-9, 4-4 SoCon)

SERIES – Chattanooga now leads the all-time series 47-15 and has won five out of the last six meetings.

NOTES TO KNOW
– VMI’s 54.0 percent (27-50) shooting is second highest by an opponent this season (59.6% at Belmont)…best opponent shooting percentage in a win since Wofford 58.0 percent (29-50) performance in the 84-77 win in Spartanburg on Feb. 8, 2020.

– Even with the see-saw feel of the four-point margin, there were just four ties and five lead changes… 6-1 when there are five or more lead changes in a game this season.

– Another 20-point night for Malachi Smith with 25…12 straight road games with 20+ dating back to the road finale at Mercer (22) last season… averaging 25.6 points per game on the road this campaign… six in a row with 20 or more ties the school’s DI era record set first by Derrick Kirce in 1991 and matched three years later by Chad Copeland.

Check out all the notes at the link above.

QUOTABLE
“When it comes down to the end in a game like this, it’s going to come down to defensive trust and matchups, but it comes down to defensive trust. In this game, I was going with the guys who showed what it takes. That’s the benefit of having older guys, you’re experienced and trust them to do the right things down the stretch.” – head coach Lamont Paris on an experienced team.

“It was about fighting through adversity, on all ends, both on offense and defense. We had to make sure to make the right plays on offense and then turn it into offense. It has to do with how many guys have experience and leadership. When the clock hits those final moments, we all come together as experienced guys.” – Darius Banks on capping off a perfect road trip.

Check out all the quotes at the link above.

UP NEXT – Chattanooga vs. Wofford – Wed., Jan. 26 – 7PM ET – 2021-22 Schedule

SOCON SCOREBOARD
The Citadel at ETSU (4PM ET)
Western Carolina at Mercer (5PM ET)
Samford at UNCG (5PM ET)
Furman at Wofford (7PM)

Categories: Sports, Sports – Local Sports News, Sports – UTC Mocs

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