GAME NOTES: The Western Carolina Catamounts will try to gain ground in the league standings as they visit McKenzie Arena for a pivotal Southern Conference bout against the Chattanooga Mocs.
This contest was originally scheduled for Thursday before the severe winter storm delayed tip off by 24 hours.
The Catamounts own a 14-11 overall record including a 7-3 mark in SoCon action after their 83-75 decision over Furman on Monday. Although WCU has won three of its last four games, it is still tied for fourth in the SoCon standings and trailed the first place Davidson Wildcats by 2.5 games. Coach Larry Hunter's team has struggled away from home as it has come out of only three of its 12 true road tests on top. The Catamounts are pacing the conference in steals with 7.7 per game. Their total of 117 blocks is just 20 shy of the program's single-season record set in the 2000-01 campaign.
Chattanooga endured its second consecutive setback and third loss in four games on Saturday as it fell, 92-85, to Samford in overtime at the Pete Hanna Center. The Mocs' recent slump has not completely derailed their quest towards a SoCon regular season championship as they are just one game back of Davidson, but they will need some help having already lost to the Wildcats in the only scheduled meeting between the contenders this season. Coach Will Wade has managed to lead his squad to eight straight wins at McKenzie Arena.
The Catamounts and Mocs have squared off 79 times before in history. UTC holds a 58-21 all-time series lead including a 47-18 edge in SoCon games. In the most recent meeting, the Mocs defeated WCU, 81-72, on Feb. 28, 2013 in Cullowhee.
WCU overcame its 8-of-26 clip from beyond the arc versus Furman by making good on 57.9 percent of its 2-point field goal attempts and converting 15-of-18 shots at the free-throw line. The Catamounts also finished with 18 assists against nine turnovers and forced the Paladins into 15 miscues. Senior guard Trey Sumler spearheaded the charge with 24 points on 10-of-23 efficiency from the floor while junior guard James Sinclair tallied 13 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. Brandon Boggs also made an impact with 15 points and Tawaski King netted 13. Sumler has pumped in 49 points over his last two outings to raise his scoring average to 18.3 ppg, which ranks him fourth among SoCon players. The 6-foot-2 combo guard is also leading the conference with 4.35 apg. Boggs and Sinclair are contributing 10.8 and 10.7 ppg, respectively.
UTC was dominated on the interior in its overtime loss at Samford. The Bulldogs enjoyed a 47-39 edge in the rebounding battle and outscored the Mocs by 32 points in the paint despite a 10-rebound effort from senior forward Z. Mason. Gee McGhee led the team with 21 points while junior guard Ronrico White (19 points), junior swingman Martynas Bareika (13) and 6-5 sophomore Casey Jones (10) also scored in double figures. Mason, who was the SoCon Player of the Month in January, paces the league in rebounding (9.6), blocks (3.1) and defensive boards (6.6). Jones has averaged 14.1 ppg and 6.9 rpg in 2014. Thanks to the stinginess of Mason, UTC is averaging a SoCon leading 5.3 blocks per game and its average has increased to 6.8 per tilt in conference games.
UTC should be able to bounce back as it hosts a team it has dominated in the past. The Catamounts could be a dangerous visitor if Sumler continues to light up the scoreboard, however he will have trouble maintaining his rapid scoring pace against the Mocs' athletic backcourt defenders, who have the ability to pressure shooters with Mason protecting the rim on the second line.
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