ASHEVILLE, NC (WRCB) -- It was a familiar result Friday night for University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men's basketball at the Southern Conference Tournament, but John Shulman is adamant it happened to a very different team.
The Mocs ran away from Asheville almost immediately following last year's opening round loss to Georgia Southern, hoping to escape the disappointment of an experienced team that fell vastly short of expectations.
This year, Shulman made his team stay in Asheville after its opening round loss to UNC Greensboro to watch the quarterfinal game they could have played in, hoping to help them understand what it will take to get there.
"Our kids have to see this and experience this or they won't have any idea what it's all about," Shulman said. "I've been here before. They haven't. If watching Greensboro play Elon in the quarterfinals after beating us is what it takes to help us take the next step, then that's what we'll do."
The loss to the Spartans was the third straight one-and-done showing for the Mocs in the SoCon Tournament, and like the rest of the season, it was an eye-opener for a trio of freshman.
Gee McGhee, Casey Jones and Eric Robertson all played significant minutes all season long, the first time in decades UTC has relied on so many first-year players.
And it's not like the rest of the roster was rich in experience, either.
Ronrico White and Zaccheus Mason each stepped into leadership roles as the "experienced veterans" -- in only their second season at Chattanooga.
"We're still learning how to win," said White. "This is a lot of people's first time here, and for me and Z, this was our first time having to lead a team.
They certainly did their best Friday night, combining for 39 points to put the Mocs on the verge of its first tournament win since 2010.
"I was just trying to set the tone for the team. I just wanted to come out and show them how to play tournament basketball," said Mason, who led UTC with 20 points. "I guess I had a decent game, but it still hurts to come out on the losing side."
The questions are now what and how long will it take for Chattanooga to get back on the winning side, considering his year's 13-19 overall record marks the fourth straight season that Chattanooga has failed to finish above .500.
The good news is nine of the 14 players on this year's roster are freshmen and sophomores, who gained valuable experience not only on the court, but off it in handling adversity.
"We just have to develop a killer instinct and learn how to put these games away," McGhee said. "We need to learn how to make big shots and get big stops. We have to do a lot of things better.
"We'll just have to wait until next year to make everyone proud."
Jones refused to dwell on the loss or the losing season, instead keeping his focus on the future.
"I'm only looking forward. I'm looking forward to when we win it next year," he said. "I'm ready to go again and get better."
With only a year left on his contract and a career record that has now dipped below the .500 mark, it remains to be seen if Shulman will be back to see his team get better.
However, UTC has been without a permanent athletic director since Rick Hart left last July, and it just recently announced the hiring of a new chancellor. That period of transition in key administrative positions means it's unlikely a decision will be made anytime soon.
"I think we all need to take a good, hard look at everything in the program from A to Z," Shulman said. "We made strides. We made improvements and we got better without Dontay Hampton, who was our best player, but we know we have to get even better."
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