Yep- you heard right. It's not Senior Night. It's Zenior Night.
Senior Z Mason has certainly earned a night being named after him. After all, he has been one of the best players to come through Chattanooga in recent years. He will probably be on the All SoCon First Team this year, might win Player of the Year and has ignited the turn around in Mocs basketball fortunes this year. There will be festivities surrounding the lone Mocs senior.
But there is important stuff to tend to on the court as well. The Mocs will be hosting Appalachian State in a game with significant tournament seeding implications for the Mocs. A win over the Mountaineers would lock up the two seed for the Mocs in the upcoming SoCon Tournament. A loss could knock them down to the fourth seed if Wofford beats UNCG and Elon beats Davidson. A loss and a win by just one of those two teams would put the Mocs in at the third seed. A loss by all three would also leave the Mocs in at the two seed.
In other words, this game matters to the Mocs a great deal. While winning a SoCon regular season championship was the ultimate goal, finishing second would be a tremendous step for a team with a new coaching staff, new style, new system and just one senior on the roster that finished in seventh last year in the SoCon.
So it begins for the Mocs as they strive to prove that they can win back-to-back games to close out the year and put together back-to-back solid performances. After a bumbling month of February, they get to start off March attempting to show exactly what they are made of.
Back in the first match-up between the two teams, the Mocs fell behind by double digits early in the game, only to roar out to an eleven point halftime lead and a ten point win to start SoCon play at 5-0. The Mocs were never seriously threatened in the second half. Martynas Bareika scored 16 points, Casey Jones had 14 points and eleven rebounds, and Z Mason contributed 22 and 12 to go along with six blocks. For the Mountaineers, Michael Obacha had one of his best offensive nights, scoring ten points. Jay Canty got 18 points. Tommy Spagnolo scored just five points and had seven rebounds.
Now, Canty is suspended for the second time this year. He was out for Thursday's game against Samford. Mike Neal was also suspended for that game. The school announced that both had violated team rules and would not be playing at Chattanooga either, but no timetable had been set for their return.
The bad news for the Mocs in terms of how the Mountaineers are playing is the rising up of Spagnolo. He has become a really good SoCon player since the last meeting, when he played just twenty minutes and did not start. He is now the Mountaineers best player with Canty out. Spagnolo is a 6-7 and will be tough for the Mocs to handle inside, especially with Obacha also in the middle.
How did Appalachian State beat Samford on Thursday without Neal and Canty, who combined for 34 points against the Mocs in their earlier meeting? Well, one thing they did was feed Spagnolo, who finished with 21 points. The other thing they did was play suffocating defense. Samford did not score for over seven minutes late in the game to turn a comfortable lead into a deficit. The Bulldogs committed 25 turnovers against the Mountaineers, the most by a SoCon team this year. They also got to the free throw line 33 times to the Bulldogs 12.
These are things that should trouble the Mocs. They are a team that goes to the free throw line a huge number of times to make up for lack of shooting ability from the floor. They are a team that has a tendency to commit turnovers in chunks. They could not slow down Samford's offense in two games against them.
There are things to be worried about here. The Mountaineers have seemed to play better without Canty in SoCon action, which seems unthinkable, given his talent level. When he was out with an injury, they won a few games. When he is suspended, they go and win at Samford. Maybe, for some strange reason, this team is better without Canty in the lineup.
The Mocs will likely need to win the rebounding battle and fight and scrap for everything. They are not good enough to just show up and win the basketball game. They are going to have to bring the energy to the game for the full forty minutes. After their performance against Georgia Southern the last time the Mocs played in McKenzie, my bet is that the Mocs decide to show up and bring their best effort. This is their last chance to impress the home crowd this year.
Think about it. Appalachian State scored 70 points against the Mocs the first time around, and 34 of them were scored by Canty and Neal who will not play in this one. That is a huge chunk to replace, even with Spagnolo playing at such a high level. They will try to do it mostly with defense, but the Mountaineers could not control the Mocs as they drove the ball to the basket the first time around. Gee McGhee should have a great game in this one. Z Mason will play an inspired performance in his final home game. Casey Jones and Rico White will also play big roles. Look for Lance Stokes to bring the energy to the game that is necessary to win. Finally, a guy that I don't always give a ton of credit to, Greg Pryor, will not turn the ball over a lot against the Mountaineers ball hawkers, and the Mocs will come up with a relatively easy win in front of the home crowd. Mocs 77, Mountaineers 64.