Late in Sunday afternoon's home game against 21st-ranked Mississippi State, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga forward Raven Thompson caught a pass in the corner from Addie Porter, faked a pass to Karsen Murphy and then drilled a 3-pointer, giving the Mocs a five-point lead.
As the Bulldogs called a necessary timeout, Thompson's teammates mobbed her. UTC head coach Shawn Poppie and assistant Jayda Worthy emphatically pumped their fists, and even the typically stoic Thompson had to crack a smile as she ran to the bench.
The sophomore's 3 with 1:47 remaining in the matchup at McKenzie Arena hammered in the final nail of the Mocs' biggest regular-season win in close to a decade, with the reigning Southern Conference tournament champions ultimately wrapping up a 59-53 victory against a Southeastern Conference opponent and improving to 8-1.
"It's indescribable," said Thompson, who matched senior guard Jada Guinn with a team-high 14 points. "We knew we had to fight, no matter what the score was. We knew we had to fight for each other and play together."
As a freshman, Thompson spent a portion of the season not showing that emotion. She was feeling her way into college, but in year two, she's allowing herself to be a bit more, well, Raven.
"They want me to show my emotions to get them going," said Thompson, who was the SoCon freshman of the year for 2022-23 — Poppie's first year as head coach — and helped the program return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2017. "I have to do that for them, and just being around them is fun. They've allowed me to be myself."
Mississippi State opened the season 8-0 but now has back-to-back losses. The first came Wednesday in Starkville, where Miami won 74-68 in an ACC/SEC Challenge game.
Against UTC, the Bulldogs were without second-year head coach Sam Purcell — a native of Dalton, Georgia, he missed the game due to illness — 6-foot-5 forward Jessika Carter and 6-2 forward Erynn Barnum, but they still held a size advantage over the Mocs. Yet UTC outscored Mississippi State 24-20 in the paint while limiting the visitors to 34% shooting from 2-point range.
Meanwhile, the Mocs got their usual offensive contributions from Guinn and Thompson and 12 points on 4-for-8 shooting from 3-point range by freshman guard Hannah Kohn, who played a season-high 26 minutes.
Nine of those Kohn points came in the first half, which ended with the Mocs trailing 32-26. Mississippi State then scored on consecutive possessions in the third quarter to build an 11-point advantage, but after making their first two shots of the half, the Bulldogs were just 5-for-18 the rest of the game.
After a Jerkaila Jordan layup put Mississippi State up 41-30, the Mocs outscored the Bulldogs 14-4 the rest of the quarter, then took the lead for good on a Kohn 3 with 5:14 remaining.
And shortly after, Poppie had a win that could further the culture he's been building in Chattanooga.
"We know we've got to go to Asheville and win three games, right?" Poppie said about the three wins necessary to win the SoCon tournament come March in North Carolina. "I'm not trying to dismiss that, but for us, we keep talking about when we get to a NCAA tournament — if we do what we're supposed to — you can't be intimidated by this.
"If we're talking about winning games in the NCAA tournament, these are the games you've got to compete in and see what we've got. I think today shows that when we get there, we can compete."
Porter scored just six points from her point guard spot for UTC, but the 5-4 junior had team highs in rebounds (nine) and assists (four). Murphy's three blocks were a game high.
UTC's defense forced the Bulldogs into 18 turnovers, which matched a season high for the visitors. Mississippi State got a double-double from Jordan with 19 points and 10 rebounds (although she had eight turnovers), while Lauren Park-Lane added 14 points with six rebounds, four assists and two steals.
The Mocs have won six straight games since their 79-74 home loss to Marshall on Nov. 12. Their next game is against North Alabama at 2 p.m. Saturday at McKenzie Arena.
Contact Gene Henley at [email protected].