When the season comes to a close, we’ll look back at some games and lament that there was no live crowd to watch it. Wednesday afternoon’s classic between Furman and Chattanooga, which saw the Paladins claim a 77-73 win at McKenzie Arena, will be one of those games.
The lack of crowd seemed to make no difference to David Jean-Baptiste, who made a return from the transfer portal to the Mocs’ lineup. In a season of peculiarities, that’s something that is also rarely seen — a player returning from the portal to the school he was planning to transfer from. About 25 minutes before tip-off, just before the teams left the court for their final instructions from their respective coaching staffs, Jean-Baptiste knelt, said a prayer, and kissed the power “C” logo at mid-court. He led the Mocs with 18 points.
Without Jean-Baptiste, the Mocs managed to get off to a 9-0 stat to the season. And in case you were wondering why Paris allowed Jean-Baptiste return, it wasn’t only because he could elevate a team already off to a great start.
“If David weren’t high-character, Jean-Baptiste would no longer be on this team,” Paris said. “I can tell you that.”
“He wanted to be a part of what we are doing and obviously, it was an agreement from both sides,” he added. “It made sense for him and was a good situation for him and for us to have him back on the team. I was surprised when it happened the first time and some things change obviously, but Dave has enjoyed his time here and he has told me that. He and the team sat down and met, and we were willing to have him back.”
That’s not coach speak. It’s unfiltered truth. That’s what made it so surprising when Jean-Baptiste opted out — he seemed self-made and Chattanooga through and through, sold out to the Mocs cause.
In fact, it could be argued Jean-Baptiste was a product of the kind of player that Paris’s staff can develop. Jean-Baptiste is part of a three-headed scoring monster for the Mocs, and it’s what will keep them in the conference race all season.
Baptiste has a talented supporting cast
Though Malachi Smith was held under double figures on Wednesday, he’s key alongside K.C. Hankton — a transfer from St. Louis. He and Jean-Baptiste were playing their first game together in the backcourt for the Mocs, and it was a productive one, as the two ended up as the only players in double figures for Chattanooga.
Hankton, who had his original career high of 17 points in his first-career game in a Chattanooga uniform, matched that performance against the Paladins, posting 17 points on 7-of-10 from the field and 3-for-5 from long range.
Along with the double-double machine Smith, Hankton and Jean-Baptiste are enough to give any team in the SoCon major headaches this season, and I suspect the Mocs will remain in the thick of the championship race.
The one problem that the Mocs could face is depth. Only eight players saw minutes on Wednesday, and without a true scoring force in the paint, matchups against teams like Mercer, UNC Greensboro or East Tennessee State are going to be tough due to an overall size disadvantage.
Ultimately, Chattanooga is a good basketball team, and even with the loss to open SoCon play Wednesday, Paris has navigated this program through some really murky waters and has seen, despite it all, his own mental toughness and perseverance pay off. He is a man that practices what he preaches no matter what. With Jean-Baptiste back, the Mocs have a real chance to be dancing in March.