CHATTANOOGA, Tenn.--- Keegan Bell (Hazel Green, Ala.) scored a career-high 25 points leading the Chattanooga Mocs to a share of the Southern Conference North Division Championship with a 77-72 overtime win at Samford (12-18/4-14) Saturday evening. The Mocs are now 16-15, 12-6 tying Western Carolina for the North title.
The championship is the 28th for Chattanooga in 34 seasons in the SoCon. That breaks down to 18 regular season (8 division/10 non-division) and league-record 10 tournament crowns.
Bell's 25 points came along with five rebounds and five assists without a turnover. He had eight of the Mocs' 12 overtime points.
Andy King and Josh Bedwell each scored 14 points for the Bulldogs. Fifteen of Samford's 25 field goals came from three-point range including nine of 10 in the second half.
Samford led by six early in the second half, 40-34, when the Mocs made their move. Ricky Taylor (Brownsville, Tenn.) capped a 9-0 run with a three-pointer at 15:08 for a 43-40 UTC lead.
Gaby Bermudez's three-pointer at 10:28 regained the lead for the Bulldogs, 49-48, but it was short lived. Jeremy Saffore (Nashville, Tenn.) started eight unanswered points for the Mocs for a seven-point cushion, 56-49, at 7:57 on Omar Wattad's (Johnson City, Tenn.) jumper.
Down seven, 62-55, at the four-minute mark, Samford was up to the task. It out-scored Chattanooga 10-3 down the stretch as Josh Davis tied the score at 65-all with 25 seconds left in regulation. Bell missed a three-point attempt followed by a missed desperation heave from Jeffrey Merritt sending the game into overtime.
After Bedwell's three-pointer at 2:33 gave the Bulldogs a 70-69 lead, Chris Early (Huntington, W. Va.) stepped up for the Mocs. He followed his own miss with a layup at 2:05 to put Chattanooga back up 72-71.
Merritt followed with a layup on the Bulldogs' next possession, but it was the final points of the night for Samford. With UTC down 72-71 at 1:45, Bell took over.
A three-pointer from the left front at 1:17 gave the Mocs the lead for good, 74-72. Defensive stops and three of four free throw shooting by Bell gave Chattanooga the 77-72 win and the championship.
Taylor joined Bell in double digits for the Mocs. The junior guard tallied 14 points and five rebounds.
Chattanooga dominated the glass 42-28 led by Early with nine. Early added eight points, including several key buckets. His power slam at 8:45 helped key the Mocs 8-0 run to the lead midway through the second half. It was part of 14 second chance points for Chattanooga compared to zero for Samford.
The SoCon North title did not come easily. There were 14 lead changes and 12 ties in the game. The Mocs had one of their best efforts from the free throw line making 13 of 16, 81.3 percent. Centers Saffore and DeAntre Jefferson (Bloomington, Ill.) made all six of their attempts, 4-4 from Jefferson.
Chattanooga made 10 three-pointers led by Bell with a career-high tying six. He and Taylor combined for 8-20 from beyond the arc. While the Mocs were 10-32 from three-point range, they made 17 of 29 (58.6%) inside it.
The Mocs were ready from the outset in its quest for its 28th title. They scored the first seven points of the game with layups by Saffore and Early just ahead of a three-pointer by Taylor at 16:42. Chattanooga led by as many as 10 in the opening half only to see the Bulldogs charge back.
Down 12-2 at 15:01, Samford scored 11 straight to take its first lead, 13-12 at 12:23. Dontay Hampton (Chattanooga, Tenn.) hit a three at 12:08 for the Mocs only to see back-to-back baskets by John Peterson to put the Bulldogs up three, 18-15 at 10:05.
Bell dueled the Bulldogs from long range in the final minutes of the first half. He hit back-to-back treys before Samford scored seven of the last eight points of the half to lead 34-31 at the break.
It's on to the Southern Conference Tournament for the Mocs without far to travel. This year's championship is within walking distance at McKenzie Arena starting March 4 and running through the seventh.
Chattanooga is the two seed and will face the winner of Furman and Samford at 7 p.m., in the quarterfinals Saturday, March 5, after a bye on day one. UTC is looking for an unprecedented 11th SoCon Tournament title.GoMocs.com is the official website of the Chattanooga Mocs. The Mocs can also be followed on their official Facebook page, www.facebook.com/ChattanoogaMocs, or on Twitter, www.twitter.com/GoMocs.