Western Carolina (7-11, 4-2 SoCon) at Chattanooga (8-10, 3-2 SoCon)
Saturday, Jan. 19, 7 p.m. ET
McKenzie Arena (10,928) . Chattanooga, Tenn.
Radio: ESPN 105.1 FM
Series Record: Chattanooga leads 57-21
Probable Chattanooga Starters
G-Ronrico White, 6-3, 170, SO (9.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.8 apg)
F-Z. Mason, 6-5, 238, JR (13.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 1.0 bpg, 1.0 spg)
C-Drazen Zlovaric, 6-9, 220, SR (8.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg, .511 FG)
G-Farad Cobb, 6-0, 160, FR (6.3 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 1.6 apg)
G-Gee McGhee, 6-5, 200, FR (9.6 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.3 spg)
Key reserves: Jared Bryant (6-7, 240, SO); Martynas Bareika (6-4, 208, SO), Sam Watson (6-7, 245, JR)
Probable Western Carolina Starters
F-Tawaski King, 6-8, 245, JR (10.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg, .543 FG)
G-Mike Brown, 6-3, 175, SR (3.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 1.0 apg)
G-Trey Sumler, 6-2, 175, JR (17.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 3.5 apg, 2.0 spg)
G-Brandon Boggs, 6-5, 190, JR (8.5 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 1.1 spg, 1.0 apg)
G-James Sinclair, 6-3, 180, SO (7.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.3 apg, 1.0 apg)
Key reserves: Tom Tankelewicz (6-4, 180, SR); Preston Ross (6-4, 220, JR); Josh Mendenhall (6-8, 180, JR)
The opening tip
The Mocs return to action after the emotional roller coaster ride that was Thursday’s 91-88 overtime win over Appalachian State. Chattanooga, which trailed by as much as 11 in the first half and 19 in the second, never led until the overtime period when senior Dontay Hampton knocked down his fifth 3-pointer of the contest with 3:28 remaining.
UTC won’t have Hampton for at least the near future after the 6-1 guard broke his hand in the closing seconds of Thursday’s victory. It’s not like the Mocs aren’t used to playing without Hampton, though. They did it for the first 15 games.
Chattanooga, which has captured come-from-behind victories in two of its last three games, erased a 10-point, second-half deficit last week at the Citadel, but we all remember what happened when they returned to the court two days later. They got drilled at College of Charleston.
Chattanooga finds itself in a similar scenario Saturday. Not only is the squad coming off another hard-fought victory, the Mocs will be going up against an opponent with a chip on its shoulder.
Following its perfect 4-0 start in Southern Conference play, Western Carolina has suffered consecutive setbacks to Elon (80-67) and Samford (64-60). Like the Cougars a week ago, who were also coming off a loss to the Bulldogs, the Catamounts will be looking to get things turned around against Chattanooga.
WCU guard Trey Sumler, No. 2 in the SoCon in scoring (17.6 ppg), leads the Catamounts’ fifth-ranked scoring offense (69.1 ppg), while forward Tawaski King is averaging in double-figures as well (10.8 ppg). The 6-8 junior is also Western Carolina’s leader on the glass (5.3 rpg), although rebounding isn’t one of the team’s strengths.
The Catamounts are sixth in the SoCon in rebounding margin (-1.6), while Chattanooga comes in at No. 2 (+4.4). Mocs junior Z. Mason, who recorded his second 20-point, 10-rebound performance of the season Thursday, ranks fifth in the conference with 7.2 rebounds per contest.
“We weren’t giddy giddy in that locker room. I want them to be happy, but I also want them to look at that first 33 minutes. We didn’t win the national championship (Thursday), we won a big conference game that we had to have. I hope we come out, build on it and move forward.” – Mocs head coach John Shulman on moving forward from Thursday’s win.
The Mocs are among five teams within one game of first place in the SoCon North Division. Samford, which UTC defeated 74-70 on Jan. 5, leads the division at 4-1, followed by Western Carolina at 4-2. Chattanooga, Appalachian State and Elon are all tied at 3-2. … The Bi-L0 BONUSCARD deal will be in effect for the remainder of the season at McKenzie Arena. Get buy one, get one free tickets, including lower level per availability, when you show you Bi-Lo BONUSCARD when purchasing tickets. … UTC has won six of its last eight games. … Chattanooga holds a 57-21 series lead over Western Carolina, and the Mocs are 34-2 at home against the Catamounts, which includes five straight at McKenzie Arena. … WCU coach Larry Hunter has compiled a 114-129 record in eight seasons with the school. The 33-year veteran is 623-353 as a head coach, and 7-7 against Chattanooga.
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.