GAME NOTES: After a shocking upset in the first round of the annual Dr. Pepper Classic, the Maine Black Bears find themselves in the title game of the event against host Chattanooga this evening at McKenzie Arena.
The Black Bears landed in Tennessee with just a single victory in 10 opportunities, taking down Fisher College in the second game of the season. Considering the team had yet to defeat a Division I opponent and was riding an eight-game losing streak, the 89-85 overtime victory against Middle Tennessee on Sunday was a stunner to say the least.
As for the Mocs, they expect to be in this position every year when they host this event, having won the title 15 times already in 23 opportunities. The squad is now 23-1 in opening-round action after dismissing a pesky Grand Canyon crew by a score of 69-64 yesterday. The win snapped a two-game slide by Chattanooga and was just the fifth in 13 tries on the season overall.
In terms of an all-time series between the programs, the Mocs won the only previous meeting with Maine, a 90-75 decision at home back in 2006.
Dimitry Coronel saved the day for the Black Bears on Sunday as he scored a game-high 27 points, shooting 5-of-8 behind the 3-point line, adding eight rebounds and four assists in the overtime upset of Middle Tennessee. Also scoring in double figures for the underdogs were Zarko Valjarevic with 20 points and both Shaun Lawton and Kilian Cato with 12 apiece, although Lawton did also account for six of the team's 14 turnovers in the meeting.
Perhaps making the upset even more of a surprise was the fact that Maine turned the trick without having leading scorer Xavier Pollard (16.7 ppg) on the floor. Coronel (14.9 ppg) may not be one of the most accurate shooters from the floor (.405) or at the free-throw line (.609), but he is still a valued performer for Maine. Valjarevic checks in with 14.0 ppg in large part to his impressive 46.6 percent shooting behind the 3-point line where he is connecting on an average of more than three per game.
Chattanooga, which has lost just once in the opening round of this tournament in 24 years, led by as many as 13 in the first half against Grand Canyon on Sunday, yet had to hold on down the stretch for the victory. Back in action after dealing with an injury, Z. Mason turned in a double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds, adding four blocked shots, while Ronrico White accounted for 11 points on a mere 3-of-9 shooting off the bench. Martynas Bareika and Lance Stokes both pitched in with 10 points in the win as well.
A starter in all 11 games in which he has appeared, Mason is by far the most productive player on offense for the Mocs with his 18.4 ppg as he shoots an impressive 55.3 percent from the floor. Tops on the glass as well with 7.8 rpg, Mason is clearly more dominant in the paint and not so much on the perimeter where he has made just 30.4 percent of his 3-point tries. There are a few drawbacks to having Mason on the floor however, considering he has just seven assists in nearly 300 minutes of action, and is converting only 56.4 percent at the free-throw line.
Scoring an impressive 78.2 ppg, the Mocs should be more than ready for the challenge tonight, as long as they don't take Maine too lightly and give Coronel and Valjarevic too many open looks at the basket.
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