CHATTANOOGA, Tenn.---The return of Z. Mason (Nashville, Tenn.) and a strong bench performance propelled the Chattanooga Mocs to a 69-64 win over Grand Canyon in the first round of the 24th Dr Pepper Classic. Chattanooga meets Maine in the title game Monday night in McKenzie Arena.
Mason posted a double-double with 16 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks after missing the last two contests with a toe injury. He scored the first six points of the game for his squad and was joined in double figures by Ronrico White (Knoxville, Tenn.) with 11, and Martynas Bareika (Kedainiai, Lithuania) and Lance Stokes (Orlando, Fla.) with 10 apiece.
Grand Canyon got 22 points and 13 rebounds from Killian Larson. Dan Alexander added 12 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, while Jerome Garrison chipped in 13 points and four assists.
“(Mason) had a big double-double,” Head Coach Will Wade said. “Like I have been preaching, the rebounds are really where we missed him. I think there were a couple of rebounds that he got that I don’t think anyone else on our team could have grabbed.
“It is good to get back into the win column” Wade added. “We’ve been getting better, and we’ve been working hard…really hard since Northern Kentucky, and it paid off for our guys. It’s a good win, but we have a quick turnaround and have to get ready for Maine.”
Chattanooga led 45-37 with 15:37 to go in the game on a rebound follow by Stokes. The Antelopes answered with a 10-0 run as Garrison’s trey gave them a 47-45 lead at 13:42.
White swung the pendulum back in the Mocs favor on the ensuing possession. His three from the left corner off a nice pass from Casey Jones (New Orleans, La.) put his team back in front 48-47. Two Garrison free throws got the ‘Lopes back on top, but Bareika’s three-ball with 11:29 to go put Chattanooga ahead to stay. It also came on a feed from Jones who had a career-high five assists.
The lead swelled to nine, 63-54, on two White free tosses at 4:41 and nine again, 65-56, on his jumper with 3:09 to play. A Mason layup gave the Mocs an eight-point margin, 67-59, with 1:34 left.
The ‘Lopes did not quit. It got three free throws from Alexander and then a steal and layup by Blake Davis to close within three, 67-64, with 38 seconds to play. Chattanooga missed the front end of a one-and-one three ticks later, but Grand Canyon turned the ball over inside the 10-second mark.
White calmly stepped to the line with 7.5 to go sinking the ‘Lopes chances and providing the five-point margin of victory. He and Stokes’ combined 20 points led the Mocs reserves to a 30-7 advantage over the ‘Lopes. It was the second-most points by the bench this season (34 at Georgia) against a DI opponent.
“I thought Lance Stokes was tremendous and gave us a ton of energy in the press,” Wade noted. “He really helped change the game with that run we went on in the second half.
“It was great having Ronrico White out there because he is so savvy, and there are a lot of nuances to the game that he gets that you just can’t teach,” he continued. “He is really critical to have down the stretch. I am proud of our guys. We took some punches from their guys, went down by two at one point but didn’t panic. We came back, held our gloves up and didn’t fall down for the count.”
The men from the Scenic City had a 41-40 advantage on the glass out-scoring Grand Canyon 36-26 in the paint. Neither team shot well as the Mocs hit 39.7 percent (25-63) while limiting the ‘Lopes to 36.4 percent (20-55).
It was a quick start for the home team. Mason scored on the first three possessions as the team scored in the first six for a 12-3 lead at 15:54. Stokes extended the margin to 13 twice, the second on a layup at 8:48, for a 25-12 lead.
GCU responded with a 9-0 run to get within four, 25-21, on a Jevon Estelle three-pointer. That’s as close as it got in the opening frame as the Mocs took a 36-32 lead into the break after Alexander ended the scoring with a trey.
Chattanooga, now 5-8, meets Maine in the championship game Monday night at 7 p.m. The Antelopes, 5-7, face Middle Tennessee in the consolation game at 4:30 p.m. The Black Bears out-lasted the Blue Raiders 89-85 in overtime in the first game of the night.
The Chattanooga game can be listened to live on ESPN 105.1 FM the Zone in the Scenic City, or go to the men’s basketball schedule page on GoMocs.com for links to video (ppv), audio (free) and live stats. You can follow @GoMocsMBB on twitter for live updates as well.GoMocs.com is the official website of the Chattanooga Mocs. The Mocs can also be followed on their official Facebook page or on Twitter. Find out how to join the UTC Mocs Club and support more than 300 student-athletes by clicking here.