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  • Daniel Hooker

Catamounts Square-Off Against Buccaneers Wednesday

Western Carolina men's basketball opens a two-game Southern Conference road swing on Wednesday night as the Catamounts travel to Johnson City, Tenn., to face mountain-rival East Tennessee State. Tip-off from Freedom Hall is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Wednesday night's game will be broadcast through Nexstar Media Group stations (check local listings) and simulcast on ESPN+ (paid subscription required) with live audio from the Catamount Sports Network and live stats available at Nexstar affiliates with the opportunity to air games are WCBD (Charleston), WBTW News 13 (Myrtle Beach), WGHP Fox 8 (Greensboro/High Point), WJHL News Channel 11 (Johnson City), WMYT MyNetwork TV 12 (Charlotte), WWCW The CW (Lynchburg/Roanoke) and WYCW The CW 62 (Greenville/Spartanburg/Asheville).

Western Carolina (13-2, 2-0 SoCon) enters the week having won seven straight games. It's the longest winning streak under third-year head coach Justin Gray and the best for the Catamounts since winning seven in a row back in 2009-10. Amidst the current streak are three-consecutive road wins including last Wednesday's league opener in Charleston, S.C., over The Citadel, 80-71.


Most recently, WCU put three in double figures led by the nation-leading 12th double-double effort of the season by senior Vonterius Woolbright as the Catamounts built a 19-point second-half lead over Wofford before holding on for a 70-66 victory. Woolbright finished with 18 points, 15 rebounds, and five assists in the winning effort. Having averaged a double-double between both games last week, the Albany, Ga., product collected his league-leading fifth SoCon Player of the Week honor on Monday.

Woolbright was flanked in the win over Wofford by sophomore DJ Campbell with a matching 18 points with senior Tre Jackson connecting on 4-of-5 from 3-point range to finish with 13 points. WCU held the Terriers 14 points below their seasonal average entering the game and also limited the visitors to five 3-pointers, half of what they were averaging on the year.

Woolbright continues lead to the Southern Conference with a 21.1 point per game average – a mark that ranks him 10th in the NCAA – while also pacing the league in rebounding at 12.4 boards per game,  third in the NCAA. Among his rebounding totals are an NCAA-best average of 10.2 defensive rebounds per game. Woolbright also ranks third in the SoCon in assists at 5.1 per outing, a mark that is tied for 42nd nationally.

He's one of four Catamounts scoring in double figures, joined by Jackson (13.3 ppg, 18th), Campbell (12.5 ppg, 19th), and senior guard Russell Jones Jr. at 10.9 points per game to rank 25th in the conference. Jackson enters the week second in the SoCon with an average of 3.1 3-pointers made per game, while Jones Jr. is seventh with an average of 2.4 treys. Defensively, Charles Lampten is second in the SoCon averaging two blocks per game with frontcourt teammate Corneilous Williams rounding out the Top 10 with right at one block per game.

Off to the program's best start in its NCAA Division I era, the Catamounts are among three teams currently unbeaten after the first two games of league play joining both Samford and UNCG.

ETSU (9-6, 1-1 SoCon) has won six of its last eight games overall but split its first two league games with a home win over Mercer (80-69, Jan. 3) and a 16-point, 70-54, loss at UNCG last time out on Saturday. Six of the Buccaneers' nine wins have come at home where the squad is 6-0 on the season and they are riding a 10-game home win streak that includes the final six home dates in 2022-23.

The Buccaneers have three players averaging double-digit scoring paced by Ebby Asamoah who is ninth in the SoCon with a 15.3 point-per-game average. Asamoah has scored 10 or more points 11 times with five 20-point performances. He's joined in double figures by Quimari Peterson (14.2 ppg, 14th) and Jaden Seymour (13.7 ppg, 16th). Peterson has scored in double figures in four-straight games including three 20-point performances, while Seymour has posted double-digits in six of his last seven games including two over 20 with a season-best 30 points against Utah State.

Under first-year head coach Brooks Savage, the Bucs were picked seventh in the preseason coaches poll and were tagged sixth in the media tabulation.

Two of the top three scoring defenses will be on the court Wednesday night. WCU paces the SoCon by limiting opponents to 66.3 points per game, while the Bucs are only allowing 67.9 per contest. Also, the league's best offensive rebounding team – ETSU at 13.3 boards per game – meets the SoCon's top defensive rebounding squad as opponents are limited to just 29.8 total rebounds on the year.

After sweeping the three meetings a year ago, WCU has won four straight over ETSU in the head-to-head series after dropping 31-of-32 series meetings dating back to the late 1990s. The Catamounts trail in the all-time series 28-58 overall including just eight wins in 39 meetings (8-31) in Johnson City. WCU is 4-1 against ETSU under head coach Justin Gray.

Following Wednesday's road game at ETSU, the Catamount road swing continues with a trip to Mercer in Macon, Ga., on Saturday, Jan. 13, with a 2 p.m. start on ESPN+ (paid subscription required). WCU's next home game is a nationally-televised match-up against current league co-leader Samford on Tuesday, Jan. 16, with a special 6 p.m. start on the CBS Sports Network (check local listings; DIRECTV Ch. 221; Dish Ch. 158). WCU will celebrate former Catamount Ronnie Carr who made the first 3-pointer in college basketball history back in November 1980.

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