CHATTANOOGA (AP) - The next time John Shulman needs Ronrico White to play the point, he's going to think of a new name for the position.
After struggling at point guard in the season's first few weeks, the sophomore sharpshooter shuffled down to a wing position and erupted for a career-high 21 points in Chattanooga's 68-61 win over High Point in the opening round of the Dr Pepper Classic Friday night at McKenzie Arena.
Chattanooga (4-8) improved to 37-6 all-time in its holiday tournament and 22-1 in the opening round. The Mocs advance to face Utah Valley in Saturday night's championship game at 7 p.m. ET.
"We needed to win. We needed Rico to make big shots. We needed to make big free throws. We needed to get a big rebound. We needed to win a tight one like that," Shulman said. "The harder you work the luckier you get, and we're just going to have to work really hard. I saw a lot of positive things out there, but we are not in a comfort zone at all.
"I thought we made some shots and gutted some stuff out, but hopefully this gives us a little confidence so we can take a deep breath and just play a little bit."
White, who had been filling in at point for the injured Dontay Hampton, moved to the '3' spot this week after starter Casey Jones was lost for six weeks with a broken tibia.
The Bearden High product hit 5-of-10 shots from the field, including UTC's only two 3-pointers in the game, and went 4-for-4 from the free throw line in the closing minute to help the Mocs seal the win.
"I felt pretty comfortable tonight," White said with a smile. "I played a little bit of wing last year and a little bit earlier in the season, so Coach Shulman feels like he can switch me up a little, but I have to respond."
The Mocs won despite being out-rebounded 45-32 and shooting just 2-of-21 from 3-point range. The two teams combined to go 0-for-21 behind the arc in the first half, and just 5-for-41 for the game.
"You are going to see an awful lot of things in the next two months that you never thought you would see at Chattanooga. We'll be playing zone, switching up defenses, and we're going to have to do that in a very creative way," Shulman said. "We've lost our three best defenders and when that happens you're not going to be great defensively. You're not going to be great on the glass.
"I am awfully happy and you've got a lot of happy kids who have had a lot of things happen to them that get to play for a championship tomorrow night."
John Brown again paced the High Point (4-7) offense with 23 points and 16 rebounds and is averaging 22.4 points and 10.8 boards over his past four games.
Brown helped the Panthers erase a nine-point deficit early in the second half, and his jumper at the 7:59 mark of the second half gave High Point its final lead of the game at 50-49.
From there White took over, hitting Chattanooga's first 3-pointer of the game 27 seconds later to put the Mocs back in front. He followed with UTC's second and final 3-pointer two possessions later as part of a four-point play that gave Chattanoga a 58-52 lead.
Devante Wallace pulled High Point within 62-61 with a 3-pointer with 31 seconds left, but White and Z Mason hit six straight free throws to close out the scoring.
Mason finished with 15 points and nine rebounds in support of White. He scored five points in the Mocs' 11-0 run to open the second half that turned a 32-30 halftime deficit into a 41-32 lead.
Gee McGhee was the third UTC player in double figures, scoring all 12 of his points in the first half.
"It was a great victory. It was a collective team effort," White said. "There is no better feeling (than getting a win). This is our house and we have to win this championship."
Utah Valley 84, Austin Peay 74
CHATTANOOGA (AP) - Nick Thompson had the first triple-double in Utah Valley history and Ben Aird scored a career-high 26 points as the Wolverines defeated Austin Peay 84-77 Friday in the first round of the Dr Pepper Classic.
Thompson had 13 points, 10 rebounds and a school-record 12 assists for Utah Valley (7-8). Holton Hunsaker scored 18 of his 21 points in the second half. The Wolverines broke away from a 67-all tie in the final 5 minutes.
Utah Valley shot a season-best 61 percent from the field in handing the Governors their fifth consecutive defeat.
Travis Betran led Austin Peay (4-9) with 27 points. Anthony Campbell added 22 points for the Governors, who shot 48 percent in each half.
Alfonzo Hubbard had 10 points, eight rebounds and five assists for the Wolverines.
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