CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WRCB/AP) - Omar Wattad was diving for loose balls. Drazen Zlovaric was making acrobatic passes while chasing balls out of bounds. And every University of Tennessee at Chattanooga player was crashing the glass.
The return to Southern Conference apparently sparked a new "all-out" mentality for the Mocs, and the extra effort paid off in a 78-62 win over Western Carolina on Thursday night at McKenzie Arena.
It marked UTC's first SoCon win of the season after starting the league slate 0-2 in December.
"Everybody wanted to call it a must win. I didn't want to use that word, but I know one thing...it was pretty important. I am not stupid," said head coach John Shulman, whose team outrebounded the Catamounts 50-26. "Those are called winning plays. Those are huge plays.
"Effort plays in games.
The Mocs made more than their fair share, especially in the second half when they used a 20-2 run to close out the win.
Junior forward Drazen Zlovaric had career-highs with 19 points and 12 rebounds, while senior point guard Keegan Bell handed out 12 assists.
"Our team has a good flow," Bell said. "The first half I didn't think we were flowing as good as we have been. Second half we just turned it up. When we are playing like that, it just makes it fun. When you do that, it gets you extra buckets. Drazen was phenomenal and when you see Omar diving on the floor, it is a sight to see.
"It was awesome."
Bell hit two consecutive 3-pointers that started a 12-2 run that put the Mocs (7-9, 1-2) in front 52-43 with 14:16 remaining.
The Catamounts (7-8, 2-1) battled back to take a 60-58 lead with 6:59 left, but they without another point until just 31 seconds remained. By then, Chattanooga had run off 18 consecutive points, including six by Zlovaric, for a 76-60 advantage.
"Coach told us before the game that they are a really good defensive team. They are physical, they are tough," Zlovaric said. "I feel like we went out there and matched their toughness and fought them for every ball.
"It showed at the end."
Keaton Cole scored a season-high 18 points for Western Carolina, and Trey Sumler had a season-high 12 assists.
Zlovaric was one of four Mocs to finish in double figures. Ricky Taylor added 15 points, while Wattad added 12 and Dontay Hampton chipped in 11 for an offense that attempted just 16 3-pointers. UTC entered the game averaging 24.4 3-point attempts per contest.
Chattanooga enjoyed huge advantages on the boards and at the free-throw line. Part of the Mocs 50-26 edge on the glass came courtesy of 20 offensive rebounds. UTC also made 16 of 27 free throws to just 2 of 8 for Western Carolina.
"We beat a very good basketball team and hopefully our kids are understanding that we are a good basketball team," Shulman said. "It has been hard to understand that because we haven't had a load of success. But that shouldn't stop us from thinking we are a good team."
"Now we have a huge one here Saturday. If we really want to get back in the thick of things we have to take care of business on Saturday night."
The Mocs will continue a three-game homestand against Appalachian State this Saturday and Wofford next Thursday.