CHARLESTON, SC (gomocs.com) ---The Chattanooga Mocs scored a come-from-behind 84-78 win at The Citadel Saturday afternoon in the Southern Conference opener for both programs. The Mocs were down six, 72-66, with 3:59 to play. That changed quickly.
Tre’ McLean got it started with a three-point play at 3:47. On the ensuing possession, a McLean steal led to an Eric Robertson dunk. Greg Pryor’s steal on the next trip down turned into a McLean slam to retake the lead, 73-72.
In a span of 91 seconds, the Mocs flipped a six-point deficit into a four-point advantage. The 10-0 spurt was capped by Robertson’s free throw with 2:28 to go.
The Bulldogs closed within two twice on two Derrick Henry free throws and a Matt Frierson triple, but Chattanooga would not falter. Pryor made four of five free throws in the final minute, while the defense stiffened with stops.
"Anytime you get into conference play, you're going to have to fight, scratch and crawl just to get wins,” coach Matt McCall explained. “It's going to be like that every single night. With the style of game The Citadel plays, they can cause you all sorts of problems. We knew that going in, and obviously with 17 turnovers, we did not do a good job handling the press.
"I felt like we panicked a lot in the game, and I talked to our guys before the game about not panicking. That's how they want us to play. They want us to panic. With four minutes to go in the game, down six, I told our guys in the timeout, 'Listen, it's a two-possession game. We need a score, a stop and a score.' We ended up getting I think five baskets and five stops down the stretch, which was ultimately the reason we were able to come out with a win.”
He continued, “Games like this our good. The adversity in the game, that's how you grow as a team. I'm really just happy for our guys that we were able to pull out with a win."
McLean led all scorers with 18 points while grabbing a career-high nine rebounds. Pryor added 16 points and five assists. Duke Ethridge came off the bench to chip in 13.
Derrick Henry led five in double digits for the Bulldogs with 16 points. Zane Najdawi had 15, Quinton Marshall and Matt Frierson 12 apiece and Warren Sledge totaled 10.
UTC dominated the boards 44-26. The +18 is the best against a DI opponent in 2015-16. Chuck Ester matched McLean with a career-high nine. The squad converted 15 offensive boards into an 18-7 advantage in second chance points.
"The Citadel made 13 three's in the game,” McCall added. “We turn it over 17 times, and we still won. Obviously there's a lot we can learn from this that we need to get better on. If you're looking at the stats sheet, the reason we won the game is because we outrebounded them.
“At the end of the day, we did a great job on the glass. That's why we were able to win the game.”
The Mocs led by as many as eight in the first half. It was a five-point game, 34-29, after Robertson’s free throw at 2:08. The Citadel scored on four straight possessions. Sledge’s three-pointer with 34 seconds to go in the half to cap a 10-2 run and 39-36 lead. Dee Oldham hit two free throws 12 seconds later for the 39-38 halftime score.
Chattanooga improves to 12-2 on the year, the program’s best start since 1983-84 (14-2). The Bulldogs fall to 7-7.
The Mocs are home again Tuesday hosting Mercer at 7 p.m. Alumni can purchase $2 student section tickets for the contest prior to gameday. Check the men's basketball schedule page on GoMocs.com for links to tickets, video, audio and live stats. Follow @GoMocsMBB for live tweets from the contest.