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  • Daniel Hooker

Catamounts Close First Half of SoCon Slate Against Chattanooga

Western Carolina wraps up a season-long three-game homestand on Wednesday night as the Southern Conference men’s basketball schedule reaches its mid-point with the Catamounts hosting the Chattanooga Mocs on Ingles Court at the Ramsey Center. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.


Wednesday’s game will be broadcast on ESPN+ (paid subscription required) with live streaming audio from the Catamount Sports Network and live stats available online at CatamountSports.com. Fans can also hear the game locally on 105.7 FM / 540 AM WRGC “The River” in Sylva (wrgc.com).

 

For tickets to WCU's home games, please visit CatamountSports.com/BuyTickets

 

Wednesday’s matchup has implications for the midseason SoCon men’s basketball standings. With six wins over its first eight league games, Chattanooga (14-7, 6-2 SoCon) hits the Jackson County line in a two-way tie with UNCG for the runner-up spot in the conference rankings, both trailing Samford (7-1) by a game. The Catamounts are mired amidst a three-way tie for fourth place at 5-3 in conference play, tied with South Carolina Upstate foes Furman and Wofford. That trio is currently three games ahead of the tournament's first-round cut-off spot as the top six avoid playing Friday in Asheville in early March.

 

Western Carolina (16-5, 5-3 SoCon) halted both a three-game slide and a two-game home winless drought with last Saturday’s convincing 102-77 win over VMI in Cullowhee. The Catamounts used an early decisive 18-0 run to grab a double-digit lead it would never relinquish, building a 30-point halftime advantage and hitting the century mark for the second time this season – and the first against an NCAA Division I opponent since putting 104 on the scoreboard in an overtime win at North Carolina A&T back on Dec. 12, 2020.

 


Five players scored in double figures with Russell Jones Jr. (22) and DJ Campbell (20) both eclipsing the 20-point mark with Jones Jr. surpassing the 1,000-point mark in his NCAA Division I career after three-consecutive 3-pointers during WCU’s 18-0 spurt. Vonterius Woolbright tallied his third career triple-double with 18 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists, with Tre Jackson (19) and Bernard Pelote (11) rounding out WCU’s double-digit scorers. On Monday, Woolbright collected his school-record seventh SoCon Men’s Basketball Player of the Week honor and was named an Oscar Robertson National Player of the Week by the USBWA for the second time this season on Tuesday.

 

Woolbright continues to place the SoCon in both scoring (21.5 ppg) and rebounding (12.8 rpg), marks that rank him eighth and second, respectively, in the NCAA. The Albany, Ga., product leads the country with an average of 10.2 defensive rebounds per game, helping the Catamounts lead the SoCon in rebounding (41.1 rpg) and rebounding margin (+5.8). Woolbright is joined inside the SoCon’s Top 25 in scoring by Jackson (16th, 13.6 ppg), Campbell (20th-t, 12.0 ppg), and Jones Jr. (20th-t, 12.0 ppg). Jackson also leads the SoCon with an average of 3.2 made 3-pointers per game while Jones Jr. ranks second in 3-point field goal percentage, hitting 41% of his triples.

 

Defensively, the Catamounts continue to lead the league by limiting teams to an average of 67.4 points per game. Charles Lampten (3rd, 1.9 bpg) and Corneilous Williams (6th, 1.2 bpg) both rank among the SoCon’s Top 10 in blocked shots.

 

Chattanooga enters the week riding a season-long tying four-game winning streak – and has wins in six of its last seven games after a three-game slide. The Mocs have two league losses, falling at Samford on Jan. 3 and at home against UNCG on Jan. 13.

 

Four Mocs – two that started their careers at VMI – currently pace Chattanooga in scoring led by two-time transfer Trey Bonham at 17.6 points per game. Bonham, a preseason All-SoCon selection, played at VMI before transferring to Florida last season and again to UTC ahead of 2023-24. He became eligible in mid-December after the NCAA’s two-time transfer rule suspension. Honor Huff was one of Bonham’s Keydet teammates in Lexington two seasons ago and enters the week seventh in the SoCon in scoring with a 15.5 ppg average.

 

Rounding out the quartet of double-digit scorers are Jan Zidek (22nd, 11.8 ppg) and Sam Alexis (23rd, 11.7 ppg), who also ranks third in the conference in rebounding at 9.3 boards per contest while leading the conference with a 2.2 blocked shots average.

 

Chattanooga ranks as one of the top three scoring teams in the conference, averaging 79.0 points per outing, while also ranking fourth in scoring defense by holding foes to just under 70 points at 69.8. The Mocs face a Catamount defense that leads the SoCon by limiting opponents to 67.4 points per game. WCU held the league’s top two scoring teams – Samford (88.6 ppg) and Furman (81.0 ppg) – 13 and 16 points, respectively, below their seasonal scoring averages.

 

Dan Earl, the former head coach at VMI, enters his second season at Chattanooga where his squad was picked fifth in both of the preseason polls. The Mocs also earned one preseason first-place vote by the league coaches.

 

Western Carolina and Chattanooga meet for the 102nd time on the men’s basketball hardwood with the Catamounts trailing, 31-70. The 48 series meetings played in Cullowhee have been evenly split with 24 wins and 24 losses apiece after WCU won the past two meetings in the Ramsey Center. The two squads have split the last four series meetings over the past two seasons, both winning twice on their home floor. Additionally, the past 10 meetings have been split right down the middle between the two programs.

 

Following Wednesday’s game, the Catamounts open the second half of league play on Saturday, Feb. 3, with a short one-game road trip to Spartanburg, S.C., to face Wofford with a 4 p.m. tip-off at the Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium. WCU scored a four-point, 70-66, victory in Cullowhee in the first meeting back on Jan. 6, building a 19-point second-half lead before holding off a late Terrier rally. Saturday’s game will be broadcast on ESPN+ (paid subscription required) with live audio from the Catamount Sports Network and live stats available through CatamountSports.com.


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