CHATTANOOGA ( -- They say defense wins championships. Well they say a lot of things, but it was defense in the final minutes that keyed a 73-70 Southern Conference win over Mercer in McKenzie Arena.
Ramon Vila gave the Mocs a 71-70 lead with a free throw with 33 seconds to go. He made the first and missed the second. He made up for the miss on the Bears possession.
Ross Cummings made a strong drive to the hoop, but Vila was there. His block and rebound by Kevin Easley led to a little scramble. Easley was finally fouled in the front court with just over 10 seconds remaining.
"I was right on the goal," Jerry Johnson, Jr., noted about Vila's big play. "(Ramon) did an incredible job of staying vertical all game. He did a great job and we needed that. Guards try to take advantage of the bigs when they swipe down on the ball. Through the season, he has progressed so much in staying vertical."
The freshman from Indianapolis made both ends of a one-and-one for the three-point advantage, 73-70. Mercer quickly got the ball to mid-court with 7.7 ticks on the clock.
The Bears worked it in and looked to get leading scorer Cummings open off a ball screen. The Mocs swarmed defensively keeping Cummings from getting the ball. He was 5-6 from long range to that point with a game-high 22 points.
They patiently maneuvered, but no opening was provided by the Gig City men. Djordje Dimitrijevic took a deep triple under pressure. It fell short and the Mocs claimed a hard-fought W.
"Kev [Easley] had to make two pressure free throws," Coach Lamont Parisshared. "I can't simulate that at practice, it's impossible. Now that's two free throws when he looks back to his memory bank when the opportunity arises again, he knows he can do it because he did. He's going to at least believe he can. You don't have to talk yourself into the situation because you've done it. Those are vital experiences for this team."
Jerry Johnson, Jr., led the Mocs with 15 points. Donovann Toatley had 13 off the bench, while Easley and David Jean-Baptiste each tallied 11. Jaylen Stowe chipped in 16 for the Bears.
The triumph moves Chattanooga into a tie for fourth with Furman in the Southern Conference standings at 4-2. Wofford leads at 6-0 followed by ETSU (6-1) and UNCG (5-1). The Mocs and Paladins are followed by Samford (2-4), Western Carolina (2-5), The Citadel (1-5), Mercer (1-5) and VMI (0-6).
It was a back-and-forth game throughout. The lead in the second half was never greater than four either way, and both teams held a four-point advantage. The latter came after a Cummings three made it a 62-58 Bears lead with 7:06 to play.
Easley book-ended a Dimitrijevic layup to knot the score at 64-all at 5:39. Thomas Smallwood's 3pt at 4:08 put the Mocs up three again, 69-66. Cummings and Marcus Cohen scored on drives giving Mercer a 70-69 margin with 2:42 left. It was the last points the Bears registered.
The Mocs complete the 3-game home stand Saturday with a visit from The Citadel. Game time is 4:30 p.m., in the second half of a doubleheader with the women's meeting Furman at 2 p.m. Tickets are available on or by calling (423) 266-MOCS (6627).
Chattanooga 9-10/4-2 | Mercer 6-12/1-5
Check out the full complement of notes at the link above.

  • The Mocs celebrated Academic Night. The basketball program posted a record 2.97 team GPA in the Fall led by grad student Thomas Smallwood and sophomore transfer Alex Tostado with 4.0s. Justin Brown and A.J. Caldwell joined the duo on the Dean's List (3.2 or higher), while Duane MossDonovann Toatley and Ramon Vila earned Athletic Director's Honor Roll (3.0 or better).
  • 13 3pt made by Mocs ties for second-highest total this season…ninth time with double-digit treys so far and eighth in last 11 games…7-2 when making 10 or more 3s.
  • 11 lead changes and eight ties in the contest are both season highs…four ties and five lead changes in the final 10 minutes.

Check out the full stats at the link above.

  • Seven turnovers ties for season low, but is the low number vs. a Division I opponent…previous instance came in game three against Cumberland.
  • First career double-double for Kevin Easley with 11 points and 10 boards.
  • Mercer shot 50 percent (27-54) over the first 37:18 but went 0-5 over the final 2:42.

Check out all of what we heard at the quotes link above.
"We're not relying upon one guy and I like it that way. We have a lot of guys that can make it happen. It's nice to have more guys having the capability of making some plays. Whether they do or don't, that plays itself out, but they are capable. We have some guys who can shoot, some guys who can make decisions off ball screens. That's one of our strengths." – Coach Lamont Paris on the versatility of this team to have any one step up on any given night.
"I know (Cummings) wanted the last shot. He had 22 points, and he is one of their best players, so I knew he was going for it. I just left my feet, jumped straight up and the ball literally ended up in my hands. It wasn't anything special. If we would have played better ball-screen defense, it wouldn't have been a one-point game." – Ramon Vila on making big-time block on Mercer layup attempt on one of the game's final possessions.
at ETSU 85, VMI 82
UNCG 69, at Western Carolina 60
at Samford 80, The Citadel 77
Jan. 19 vs. The Citadel, 4:30 p.m. (DH-Women vs. Furman at 2 p.m.)
Jan. 24 at Furman, 7 p.m.
Jan. 26 at Wofford, 7 p.m.