CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. --- The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga out-lasted Samford 65-60 to remain undefeated in the Southern Conference Saturday night in McKenzie Arena. Chattanooga is 10-8 overall, 6-0 atop the SoCon North Division, while Samford falls to 10-7, 2-3 in league play.
A trio of double-digit scorers paced the Mocs as juniors Chris Early (Huntington, W. Va.) and Omar Wattad (Johnson City, Tenn.) had 17 points each. Junior Ricky Taylor (Brownsville, Tenn.) posted his first career double-double with 16 points and a career-high 11 rebounds.
Samford's Josh Bedwell led all scorers with 21 points including a 5-10 effort from three-point range. Jeffrey Merritt added 10 points and 10 rebounds.
The Mocs got off to a 13-0 start behind deep threes from Wattad and Early. The defense held the Bulldogs without a field goal for the first 7:59 of the game when a Merritt jumper helped spur a 9-0 run for Samford.
The lead was extended back to 12 points, 26-14, on another Early three-pointer at 3:23. Samford chipped away and cut it to five at the half, 30-25, on a layup by Bermudez.
The Bulldogs came out strong with back-to-back threes to start the second half. Bedwell and Josh Davis drained three-pointers in the opening two possessions to give Samford its first lead, 31-30 at 19:29.
Early's free throws at 17:09 capped an 8-2 run for the Mocs to go back up five, 38-33. Samford continued to battle re-taking the lead with an Andy King three-pointer, 46-45, at 8:59.
As he has done time and again this season, Wattad answered quickly. Just 16 seconds later, he drained a three-pointer from the left front to give Chattanooga the lead for good, 48-46.
Three times the Bulldogs cut the lead to one, only to see the Mocs respond. Two Bedwell free throws at 4:02 led to another Wattad three at 3:42. A three by King with 2:50 remaining was followed by Early's third trey of the game at 2:26.
Early's two free throws with 37 seconds remaining gave UTC an eight-point cushion, 63-55. But that's when it got a little interesting.
King hit a three-pointer with 28 seconds to play which was followed by two Wattad misses at the charity stripe. Davis cut the Chattanooga lead to three with two free throws, 63-60, with 18 seconds to play.
Taylor ended the scoring with two free throws of his own just a second later giving the Mocs a five-point win and their first 6-0 start in league play since 2007-08.
It was a cold shooting night for Chattanooga who hit just 32.8 percent (20-61) from the field and 36.7 percent (11-30) from three-point range. It was the Mocs' lowest FG% in a win this season. UTC did hit 14 of 17 from the free throw line, 82.4 percent.
Samford was limited to 38.8 percent (19-49) from the floor and 31.6 percent (12-38) from behind the arc. The Bulldogs went 0-13 from 3-pt. range to start the game, but made 12 of their last 25 from behind the arc. A key for the Mocs was forcing 15 Bulldog turnovers leading to 25 points.
Chattanooga out-rebounded its 11th opponent in 12 games 39-34. Along with Taylor's 11, Early grabbed eight. Wattad hit five three-pointers on the game, while Early added three. The duo combined for 8-17 from three-point range, while the rest of the team shot 3-13.
The Mocs end a three-games-in-five-day stretch Monday night in a battle of division leaders as the South's College of Charleston comes to McKenzie Arena. Game time is slated for 7:06 p.m., and fans can access live video, audio and stats via Chattanooga All-Access on GoMocs.com.