Mocs motivated for first SoCon Tourney opponent - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Mocs motivated for first SoCon Tourney opponent

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ASHEVILLE, NC (WRCB) -- In John Shulman's mind, UNC Greensboro may be both the best and worst possible opponent for his University of Tennessee at Chattanooga basketball team to see in the first round of the 2013 Southern Conference Tournament on Friday.

"I think they definitely have our kids' attention," the Mocs' head coach said before leaving for Asheville earlier this week.

Simple statistics prove why the matchup may likely be a nightmare for the Blue and Gold.

The Spartans went 2-0 against the Mocs during the regular season, including a 94-68 drubbing two weeks ago in McKenzie Arena in which UNCG hit a school-record 20 3-pointers.

UNCG guard Trevis Simpson erupted for 41 points in the season's first meeting a month earlier, helping the Spartans build a 14-point lead before holding on for a 77-69 home win.

"Our players know they just beat us 30. They know they humiliated us, embarrassed us and poured it on us," said Shulman. "But hey, maybe that makes it a good matchup for us."

Indeed the Mocs appear to have more to prove against Greensboro than any other team set to play Friday, with Georgia Southern being the only other opening round participant Chattanooga has not beaten.

"They came here and beat us. We went there and they beat us, so I feel like we owe them something," said freshman guard Gee McGhee. "I feel like we're definitely going into this game with a chip on our shoulder."

Bran steps up down the stretch
Alex Bran may be the most unheralded of the Mocs' four freshman, but he will likely prove to be a key piece to the puzzle this weekend Chattanooga is to make a SoCon run.

The walk-on point guard has seen his minutes increase since fellow freshman Farad Cobb was dismissed from the team last month, and the load will likely increase if UTC goes deep into the four-day tournament.

"We need him to be a little bit like (Pittsburg quarterback) Ben Roethlisberger -- just manage the game for us," Shulman said. "He's done a really solid job so far, and he's definitely going to have to play for us to be successful. Rico (White) can't play all 40 minutes for four straight nights."

Bran fits the mold of past walk-ons in Shulman's program, including Sam Watson and Dontay Hampton.

Both played large roles despite their non-scholarship label, and both were motivated to work harder because of the opportunities they received.

"I don't really feel like a walk-on. I feel like I'm a full part of this team that can play alongside anyone," Bran said. "I think I go out there mad every time, almost with an attitude. I think you have to have a mindset like that.

"If you carry yourself like that, the game is going to come to you and give you the chance to play well."

Bran has been visible in all 18 games he's played this season, hitting 39-percent of his 3-point shots and recording seven steals.

Shulman described him as fearless, a trait the whole team will need this weekend.

"He's an aggressive kid who doesn't mind shooting it. I don't mind him shooting at all, but at the same time, we need him to run our basketball team," Shulman said. "But I like Alex because like Tay and Sam, he's not a normal walk-on. I only take kids that can play for those roles, and play with a passion.

"There are kids that feel like they've been cheated of opportunities elsewhere and they've always go something to prove, so they play with a chip on their shoulder. That's the type of kid Sam is, it's the type of kid Tay is, and it's how Alex is."

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