Lady Mocs Defeat Mercer 65-57 to Win SoCon Tournament
(gomocs.com) ASHEVILLE, N.C. --- The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga fought off a late Mercer run to claim its 17th Southern Conference women’s basketball tournament title, and fourth straight, with a 65-57 victory over the Bears at the U.S. Cellular Center in Asheville, N.C.
The Mocs, seeded second for the first time since 2007, had a seemingly commanding lead heading into the fourth quarter, up 51-40. However, it would be a strong start by Mercer in the final frame.
Starting with a short jumper to end the third quarter, Mercer went on a 16-2 run to take its only lead of the game, 54-53 on a jumper from Kahlia Lawrence with 4:07 to play in the game.
After forcing a UTC turnover, it looked like the Bears’ lead would be extended but a missed shot by Lawrence followed by a layup from junior Jasmine Joyner (Southaven, Miss.) put the Mocs back out front and started a 12-3 run over the final 3:06.
Redshirt junior Queen Alford (Decatur, Ga.) led a balanced attack by the Mocs. She had 17 points on 6-of-14 shooting and earnd a spot on the all-tournament first team.
Sophomore Keiana Gilbert (Pulaski, Tenn.) had 16 points for the Mocs, sinking all five free throw attempts and had seven rebounds. She was the lone UTC player named to the all-tournament second team.
Joyner, a first-teamer, recorded her 11th double-double this season with 12 points and 11 rebounds while playing all 40 minutes. Senior Alicia Payne (Memphis, Tenn.) had 12 points, five assists and two steals on her way to being named the tournament MVP.
It looked well in hand for the Mocs who quickly built a first quarter 12-point lead. Alford started the scoring with a 3-pointer sparking an 11-2 run by the Mocs less than three minutes into the game. Mercer cut it to 11-7 with a 3-pointer from KeKe Calloway, but a quick 8-0 run that included 3-pointers from Keiana and Aryanna Gilbert (Pulaski, Tenn.) put Chattanooga up 19-7 with 4:05 to play in the opening frame.
Mercer would draw as close as four points again in the second quarter with a 3-point play from Alex Williams. Payne, however, started a 10-2 run and UTC would grow its lead to 33-21. Calloway hit a trey for the Bears’ late in the period and the Mocs would lead 33-24 at intermission.
In the third quarter, Mercer would never get closer than eight points and Chattanooga went to the line 14 times, making eight attempts to grow it leads by two points.
The Bears started the fourth quarter pressing. They would convert two quick turnovers into four points and cut Chattanooga’s lead to 51-44 less than a minute into the frame prompting a quick timeout by head coach Jim Foster.
The Mocs turned it over, but a missed shot by Mercer and a foul on Rachel Selph returned the ball to Chattanooga and Keiana Gilbert hit a jumper to put UTC back up 53-44 at the 7:58 mark.
It would be all Mercer over the next 3:51 with a 10-0 run and four UTC miscues to put the Bears out front for the first time, 54-53, with 4:07 remaining in the game.
The tide would turn following a missed jumper from Lawrence that resulted in a layup by Joyner to give the lead back to the Mocs. Lawrence missed another attempt and Keiana Gilbert to a layup and UTC’s lead grew to 57-54 with 2:38 on the clock.
Mercer’s Williams missed a pair of free throws and Alford converted a 3-pointer on the other end for a five-point swing and the Mocs led 60-54 with 1:30 to play.
Keiana Gilbert forced Williams into a turnover and Alford would drop in another two for UTC pushing the Mocs out to a 62-54 lead with 1:03 on the clock.
Chattanooga improves to 24-7 overall and will advance to the NCAA Tournament for the 14th time since 1989 under former head coach Craig Parrott.
SOUTHERN CONFERENCE ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM Alicia Payne, Chattanooga (Most Outstanding Player)