ASHEVILLE, N.C. (GoMocs.com) ---The Chattanooga Mocs are one win away from their 11th trip to the NCAA Championships. The Mocs captured a hard-fought 73-69 win over Western Carolina in the semifinals of the Southern Conference tournament.
"It was a hard-fought game from both teams," coach Matt McCall stated. "I'm proud of our team for not getting rattled and not flinching while continuing to play. We got up 11 early in the game and they came roaring back. We got up 13 again in the second half and they came roaring back again.
"A couple of balls didn't go our way, and we fumbled a couple of balls. Again, our toughness prevailed during the game, late, especially. They continue to amaze me with their toughness.
"The will to win, at the end of the day, is what it boils down to. These guys have had it and we need to have it for one more night."
Greg Pryor led a quartet in double digits with 16 points, five assists and three steals. Chuck Ester had 13 points, while Tre' McLean and Eric Robertson tallied 12 apiece."
Torrion Brummitt led all scorers with 23 points for the Catamounts. Mike Brown chipped in 19, as Justin Browning posted a double-double with 14 points and 11 boards.
Chattanooga used strong starts in both halves to full advantage. It came out of 36-all halftime score with a 19-6 run to take the largest lead of the contest, 55-42, on a Duke Ethridge slam with 13:00 to go.
Western re-grouped and closed to within four, 59-55, on Haboubacar Mutomobo's layup with 7:36 to play. Robertson and Pryor scored on back-to-back possessions to get it back to eight, 63-55. It reached 10, 69-59, after twoDee Oldham free throws.
The Catamounts made one more charge. An 8-1 spurt cut the lead to three capped by Brummitt with a minute left.
Oldham's free throw with 20 seconds to play made it 71-67. The Cats missed two three-pointers and a layup, but continued to pound the boards. Browning's lay-in with 4.9 to go. Robertson calmly sank two free throws with 3.8 on the clock for the 73-69 final.
"We really did a great job of guarding the 3-point line, which is a big key when you play them, especially on a guy like Rhett Harrelson," McCall added. "I thought that was a big key. I'm really proud of our team."
The Cats were limited to just 17.6 shooting from 3pt range making only three of 17. The Mocs hit 50 percent (8-16) with two each from Ester, McLean and Pryor.
UTC jumped out quickly in the first half as well opening the first seven minutes on a 14-3 run. Ester's triple at 13:45 had the arena rocking.
The lead was still 10 after Robertson's triple with 9:34 left. The Cats whittled the margin away with Mutombo tying the score at 29-all with 2:38 until intermission. Two possessions later, Brown's three gave Western its lone lead of the game.
It was a three-point contest, 36-33, heading into the final possession. Pryor missed a three but got the long rebound. He drilled his second attempt right before the buzzer to send the Mocs into halftime tied.
The Mocs are now in their 18th Southern Conference Championship game. The program boasts 10 wins which is tied for second all-time with West Virginia is league lore. They face the winner of ETSU-Furman.
McCall summed it up. "It's March. They're all going to be close, and they're all going to be tight. These guys came to Chattanooga for a reason. They came to Chattanooga to play in games like this and to play with a championship on the line. That's why they came here. That's what every kid dreams of.
"You have to find ways to win games this time of the year. At the end of the day, that's what it boils down to: finding ways to win games. That's what we did tonight, and that's what we did last night. Now we have an opportunity to do that tomorrow."
Tipoff is scheduled for 9 p.m., in the U.S. Cellular Center on ESPN2. ESPN "A Team" Brad Nessler and Sean Farnham are on the call. "Voice of the Mocs" Jim Reynolds has the action on 96.1 FM in Chattanooga and worldwide via GoMocs.com.
Check the men's basketball schedule page on GoMocs.com for links to video, audio and live stats. Follow @GoMocsMBB for live tweets.