CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga needed a career night from Z Mason and swift kick from head coach Will Wade to avoid an embarrassing loss in their return to McKenzie Arena.
Playing in their first home game since Nov. 19 and their first game overall since last Monday, the Mocs shook off the rust and a slow start to beat visiting Hiwassee 86-68 Tuesday night.
Mason's 41 points and 12 rebounds helped UTC erase a six-point deficit and eventually pull away from the Tigers (1-8), who play in the National Christian Collegiate Athletic Association (NCCAA).
Only once have the Mocs lost to a non-Division I opponent (Southern Poly in 1997).
"Z. Mason was really good. I thought Casey Jones played well. Outside of that, we really weren't very good," said head coach Will Wade, who slammed his clipboard on the court twice before storming out of a huddle during a media timeout in the first half. "Our effort defensively by far was the worst part. I just hope this knocked the rust off.
Mason made 16 of 20 shots from the floor to become the first UTC player to top the 40-point mark since Ricky Taylor in January of 2011. He's also the first Chattanooga player in the program's Division I era to record more than 40 points and 10 rebounds in a single game.
"I just have to give props to Coach. He had a lot of faith in me tonight," said Mason, who hit 3-of-4 shots behind the 3-point arc while adding a block and two steals. "They just kept drawing up plays to get me the ball so I could give our guys the push we needed to get over the top and keep our guys focused despite our rough patches in the beginning."
Howie Meadows caused many of those rough patches, torching the Mocs for 26 points on 8-of-12 shooting from 3-point range. He hit 5-of-7 in the first half in helping the Tigers open a 36-30 lead with 4:13 to play before the break.
Wade finally found a way to wake up his team, which answered with a 9-0 run to close the half for a 39-36 lead at intermission. UTC then used a 16-5 run to open the second half and push the lead to double figures, where it stayed the rest of the way.
"We were better in the second half," Wade added. "I think they scored 11 points in about the first 11 minutes of the second half. That was good and what we should do."
Jones tied his career-high with 17 points and Martynas Bareika also finished in double figures with 10 points in his first start of the season.
Chattanooga shot 56.1 percent (32-57) from the field including 43.8 percent (7-16) from beyond the arc. It won the battle of the glass 43-26 and owned a 50-14 advantage in the paint, fueled by Mason's big night.
""Z just wanted it," Wade said. "We had mismatch in there, and we emptied our playbook to him. He made simple plays, and Casey did too. Casey just drove it to the rim and had a bunch of offensive rebounds.
"They played within themselves."
Rico White came off the bench to a loud ovation in the second half for his first action of the season. The junior guard has been sidelined since offseason hip surgery. White went 0-for-1 from the floor and grabbed one rebound in five minutes of play.
Chattanooga hopes for a cleaner showing when it hits the road this Sunday at Northern Kentucky (12pm ET). The Mocs won't return to McKenzie Arena until December 29 for the Dr. Pepper Classic.
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