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  • Daniel Hooker

MBK: Catamounts Head to Greensboro for Wednesday Showdown



Western Carolina men’s basketball opens a two-game road swing on Wednesday night as it travels down Interstate 40 to face instate Southern Conference rival UNCG at the Greensboro Coliseum. Tip-off between the Catamounts and Spartans has a special start time of 6 p.m.

 

Wednesday’s game is slated for a national broadcast on the CBS Sports Network (check local listings; DIRECTV Ch. 221; Dish Network Ch. 158). The game will also be broadcast on the Catamount Sports Network by WCU Hall of Famer Gary Ayers with live streaming audio and live stats available online at CatamountSports.com. Fans locally can also hear the game on 105.7 FM / 540 AM WRGC “The River” in Sylva (wrgc.com).

 

The Catamount Club and WCU Alumni Association are sponsoring a special pregame gathering beginning at 4 p.m. at Steel Hands Brewing (1918 W. Gate City Blvd., Greensboro, N.C. 27403). Join other Catamount faithful ahead of the crucial SoCon road matchup at UNCG.

 

One team will hit the benchmark 20-win plateau on Wednesday night as both WCU and UNCG enter the game with matching 19-8 overall seasonal records. The Catamounts have secured 11 20-win seasons in program history, most recently back in 2009-10.

 

Additionally, the Catamounts will try and keep pace in the top half of the SoCon standings, entering the week tied with Wofford for fifth place at 8-6 right at the tournament first-round bye cut-off. With four regular-season games remaining – and holding the tie-breaker over both teams in the seventh-place tie in ETSU and Mercer – WCU can lock itself into the quarterfinal round on Saturday at the 2024 Ingles Southern Conference Men’s Basketball Championship in Asheville with a win and a loss by the Bucs and Bears.

 

Western Carolina looks for consecutive wins following Saturday’s gritty 70-65 home victory over mountain-rival, ETSU. The Catamounts were led by a pair of seniors on a day they were honored pregame as Vonterius Woolbright scored 21 points with 10 rebounds and Russell Jones Jr. sparked a 45-point second half with all 21 of his points coming after intermission. Sophomore DJ Campbell tallied his second-consecutive double-digit scoring effort with 12 points in the home victory – WCU’s first in conference play when trailing after the opening 20 minutes.

 

Woolbright continues to lead four Catamounts in double figures, averaging a double-double with SoCon-leading averages of 22.3 points and 12.2 rebounds per game. His averages rank him fourth and second, respectively, in the NCAA in those statistical categories. Tre Jackson ranks 17th with an average of 13.5 points per game, joined by Campbell (12.0 ppg, 21st) and Jones Jr. (12.0 ppg, 22nd). Jackson is second in the SoCon with both 85 3-pointers and a 3.1 trey per game average, while Jones Jr. averages a league-best 41.7 percent from range.

 

The Spartans are riding a two-game win streak entering Wednesday’s game with road victories in the Palmetto State over The Citadel (Feb. 14, 76-61) and at Wofford (Feb. 17, 58-47). All told, UNCG has won four of its last six games overall. However, after starting the year 9-0 at home, the Spartans have dropped three straight inside the Greensboro Coliseum, falling to Mercer (Jan. 27, 70-64), Samford (Feb. 8, 78-69), and most recently, Chattanooga (Feb. 10, 89-61).

 

UNCG has three players averaging double-digit scoring led by Mikeal Brown-Jones at 19.7 points per game. He’s joined by Keyshaun Langley at 14.7 points per game and Donovan Atwell with 11.1 per contest. Both Brown-Jones (Nov. 27, Jan. 22) and Langley (Nov. 20, Feb. 5) have a pair of SoCon Player of the Week honors this season. Atwell ranks second in the SoCon by shooting 41 percent from the 3-point line, averaging 2.8 made per game to rank fourth in the league. Kobe Langley leads the SoCon with both a 5.9 assists and a 2.3 steals per game average.

 

Wednesday’s match-up features the top two scorers in the SoCon as WCU’s Woolbright (22.3 ppg) is just ahead of UNCG’s Mikeal Brown-Jones (19.7 ppg) in the seasonal rankings. Those two also rank first and sixth, respectively, in rebounding at 12.2 and 7.8 rebounds per game.

 

Also, two of the top defensive teams will share the court on Wednesday as the Catamounts lead the league in holding teams to 68.8 points per game while UNCG is fourth just a point back at 69.8. The Spartans boast the best defensive field goal percentage, holding teams to just 40.6 percent from the floor and a conference-best 31.9 percent from range, just ahead of second-place WCU with 41.2 percent from the field and 32.8 percent downtown.

 

WCU dropped its first meeting with UNCG 85-82 in overtime at home back in late January. The Catamounts rallied from a 14-point second-half deficit and dug out of a seven-point hole inside the game’s final two minutes to force the extra session. Charles Lampten’s offensive rebound stick back with four second remaining sent the game into OT. However, UNCG managed to outscore the Catamounts 9-to-5 with seven from the free throw line over the final two minutes to eke out the victory – a fifth straight for the Spartans in the head-to-head series.

 

Brown-Jones went for a game-high 39 points with Keyshaun Langley chipping in 17 for UNCG, countered by 34 points by Woolbright and 22 points from Tre Jackson.

 

Thanks to its current five-game win streak – and with victories in 14 of the last 15 overall – UNCG has closed to within one game of tying the all-time series that Western Carolina leads 32-31. The Catamounts have 11 wins in the 27 meetings in Greensboro (11-16) with six of those wins coming since UNCG moved to the Greensboro Coliseum – the site of WCU’s 1996 SoCon Championship – for its primary home court in 2009-10.

 

Following Wednesday night’s nationally-televised midweek game, the Catamounts remain on the road to visit VMI in Lexington, Va., on Saturday afternoon with a 1 p.m. start on post at Cameron Hall. WCU looks for its fourth-straight series victory against the Keydets after racing to a 102-77 win in Cullowhee back on Jan. 27.

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