Mocs top Utah Valley for Dr. Pepper Classic crown
CHATTANOOGA (AP) - After dishing out a career-high 16 assists on Thursday night, Keegan Bell saved some shots for himself Friday.
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga senior point guard scored 15 points and still added seven assists to claim tournament MVP honors as the Mocs topped Utah Valley 74-59 in the Dr. Pepper Classic final.
UTC has now won 14 titles in the event's 22-year history, including three of the last four.
"The trophy is what it's all about, especially after coming up short last year," Bell said, whose Mocs have won three in a row for the first time this season. "I feel we've really come back from Christmas in a better mode, which is what we needed.
"We're starting to play Chattanooga basketball with a flow and a connection. We had a rhythm last night and we had it again tonight."
Chattanooga led 30-26 at the half after two late 3-point baskets by Holton Hunsaker brought Utah Valley (7-9) within four points at intermission. But the Mocs reopened an eight-point cushion midway through the second half and were never threatened.
Hunsaker led all scorers with 21 points, hitting five 3-pointers. Forwards Geddes Robinson and Keith Thompson were the only other Wolverines in double figures with 12 points apiece.
"I challenged our guys to come out like a confident basketball team, and we did. I just didn't count on Hunsaker making every shot," said head coach John Shulman. "I thought we played really good in the first half, but they capitalized on every little, single, silly mistake we made and we were only up four when we should have been up fifteen.
"But we needed to really get tough and win one in a grind-it-out fashion, and we did, so that was really good for us."
Omar Wattad led four Mocs in double figures with 19 points on 5-of-9 shooting from 3-point range. He had help from Ricky Taylor, whose 16-point night was his eighth straight game in double figures. Drazen Zlovaric, who joined Wattad on the all-tournament team, recorded a double-double with 11 points and 10 boards.
The Mocs caught fire in the second half for the second straight night, hitting 62.5-percent of their shots after intermission.
Every time the Wolverines threatened to pull within one or two possessions, Chattanooga would answer with a big shot. Wattad and Bell hit back-to-back 3-pointers midway through the second half to push the lead back to double figures, and UTC used a 10-2 run to extend the advantage to as many as 19 points with 4:17 to play before shutting it down.
"Basketball is a game of runs," Bell said. "The team that's going to be successful is the team that can stop the run and not let it go as far as it could, and that's what I felt like we did tonight. When they started to go on a run, we were able to stop the bleeding."
"I think this was a really good test for us, and the fact that we passed this test is a real positive for our team."
The next test for the Mocs comes Monday night at in-state rival Tennessee. Both teams have won three in a row heading into the 7 p.m. ET tip at Thompson-Boling Arena.
In the Dr. Pepper Classic consolation game earlier Friday, former Moc Jasper Williams hit his fifth 3-pointer of the game in the closing minutes to lift Hampton to an 82-79 win over Longwood.
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