Chattanooga (12-17, 7-9) at Western Carolina (12-17, 8-8)
Thursday, February 28, 7 p.m. ET
Ramsey Center (8,000) • Cullowhee, N.C.
Radio: ESPN 105.1 FM
Series Record: Chattanooga leads, 57-22
Probable Chattanooga Starters
G-Casey Jones, 6-5, 185, FR (4.1 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.3 apg)
F-Z. Mason, 6-5, 238, JR (14.6 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 0.9 bpg)
C-Drazen Zlovaric, 6-9, 220, SR (8.5 ppg, 4.9 rpg, .505 FG%)
G-Ronrico White, 6-3, 170, SO (9.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3.1 apg)
G-Gee McGhee, 6-5, 200, FR (12.4 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.4 apg, 1.3 spg)
Key reserves: Lance Stokes (6-6, 217, SO); Eric Robertson (6-4, 191, FR); Jared Bryant (6-7, 240, SO); Martynas Bareika (6-4, 208, SO).
Probable Western Carolina Starters
G-Tom Tankelewicz, 6-4, 180, JR (10.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg, .396 3P%)
F-Preston Ross, 6-4, 220, JR (6.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg, .516 FG%)
F-Tawaski King, 6-8, 245, JR (11.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 1.0 apg)
G-Trey Sumler, 6-2, 175, JR (18.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 3.1 apg)
G-James Sinclair, 6-3, 180, SO (6.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 1.4 apg)
Key reserves: Mike Brown (6-3, 175, FR); Brandon Boggs (6-5, 190, JR), Josh Mendenhall (6-8, 180, JR).
The opening tip
The Mocs look to avoid their second consecutive 20-loss season when they travel to Cullowhee, N.C., to face the Catamounts on Thursday, in addition to avenging the team’s 90-81 home setback to WCU on Jan. 19.
Western Carolina junior Trey Sumler, the SoCon’s second-leading scorer (18.1 ppg), scored 25 points in last month’s victory over UTC, while junior Tom Tankelewicz knocked down a season-high seven treys in his team’s nine-point win—the first of four straight losses for Chattanooga.
The Catamounts, fourth in the SoCon North, have dropped two of their last three, including losses to Elon and College of Charleston, before bouncing back with a non-conference win over Coastal Carolina on Saturday.
The Mocs, coming off a 72-68 win over Elon, are currently fifth in the SoCon North Division. Somehow, though, they still have an outside chance at earning the fourth and final first-round bye at next week’s conference tournament in Asheville, N.C.
The top three seeds for the tournament are already set: No. 1 Davidson, No. 2 Elon and No. 3 College of Charleston.
UTC needs to win out to even have a shot, while Samford would have to drop its final two regular-season contests. If that happens, both schools would finish up the year at 9-9 in league play, along with Appalachian State and Western Carolina, but Chattanooga would win the tiebreaker thanks to a pair of wins over the Bulldogs this season.
Chattanooga coach John Shulman on Thursday’s game at Western Carolina: “I hope we remember what we did Saturday night, and I hope we remember how we did it Saturday night. If we remember how we did it Saturday night and the feeling that we had afterwards, we’ll be okay Thursday.”
Thursday will be the 80th meeting between the two schools, and, despite dropping two straight to Western Carolina, Chattanooga holds a 57-22 series advantage over Western Carolina. The Mocs are 46-19 against the Catamounts in regular-season SoCon games—18-18 on the road. ... Freshman Gee McGhee has scored 12 or more points in 11 consecutive contests, and he notched back-to-back 20-point performances against The Citadel (20) and College of Charleston (24). The 6-5, 200-pounder is averaging 17.0 point, 5.0 rebounds and 2.2 assists during the 11-game span, while shooting 47.4 percent from the field and 37.2 percent from beyond the arc. ... Sumler is on a similar scoring streak for the Catamounts. He’s reached double-figures in eight straight games—19 of the last 20—tallying 26 points in the team’s 57-56 win over Wofford. Sumler racked up a career-high 32 points in Western’s 80-67 loss to Elon on Jan. 14. ... Coach Larry Hunter has compiled a 119-135 record in eight seasons at Western Carolina. Hunter is 628-359 in 33 seasons as a head coach, and is one of just 13 Division I coaches with 600 career wins. He’s 8-7 against Chattanooga in his career and 6-1 in Cullowhee.
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.