CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men's basketball team can't wait to take the floor Thursday night against Appalachian State.
The Mocs were embarrassed their last time out in an 86-59 blowout loss at College of Charleston, and they've been taking their frustration out on each other ever since.
"We've just been getting back to some toughness, which we needed," said sophomore guard Ronrico White.
Even though head coach John Shulman described Saturday's lopsided loss as a "perfect storm" for the host Cougars and a "fluke" effort from his Mocs, the veteran coach pulled no punches in practice.
Shulman put his team through a series of grueling, physical drills on what he called "Black Monday" in hopes of sending a message about the level of play needed to survive a full Southern Conference season.
He believes that message was received.
"(Monday's) practice, if it was any indicator, we learned something," Shulman said. "That practice could have gone either way because we blasted their tail ends and we watched a lot of film that was embarrassing, but they took it the right way.
"I think (Monday) was an indicator that we are maturing."
The Mocs will also get a big boost against the Mountaineers with the return of forward Lance Stokes. The sophomore has missed the last two months after breaking his foot in UTC's third game of the season against Southeast Missouri.
"Lance went full-boat Monday, and we're going to throw him out there Thursday unless someone tells me different," Shulman said.
Stokes averaged just over five points in nearly 15 minutes per contest in the Mocs' first three games, but his real contributions come on the defensive end on the floor.
Combined with last week's return of point guard Dontay Hampton, who had been out since July with a torn ACL, Shulman believes Chattanooga can play on a different level defensively.
"Those two really help us there, which is where we struggled against Charleston," Shulman said. "We scored 59 points, which is enough to win a game in this conference, but we have to defend and we have to rebound, and Lance helps us do that."
The Mountaineers come to McKenzie Arena for Thursday's 7 p.m. ET tip at 3-1 in league play, a half-game behind Western Carolina for the top spot in the North Division.
The Mocs see the matchup as an opportunity to prove themselves against one of the preseason favorites, and stay right in the thick of an extremely balanced SoCon race.
"Appalachian State is playing great," Shulman said. "They've won five in a row and stand at the top of the league with Western, who is coming in here on Saturday. So if we want to do something this year in this league and we want to make that statement, the time is now to do that."
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