Catamounts their own enemy in home loss to Chattanooga

Tawaski King goes up for a shot against Chattanooga. He scored 12 points on the night." Photo by Mark Haskett.

Western Carolina faced off against Southern Conference North Division foe Chattanooga Thursday night in the Ramsey Center in what should have been a competitive, physical grudge match with two teams trying to keep their hopes alive for the crucial last first-round bye in next weekend’s SoCon Tournament.

Only one team showed up.

Junior forward Z. Mason posted a double-double with 25 points on 7-of-10 from the field and a career high 14 rebounds to lead the Chattanooga Mocs over the Western Carolina Catamounts 81-72.

The Catamounts came out flat-footed on both ends of the floor as the Mocs scored the fist 12 points of the ball game.  Western Carolina did not break the scoring drought until the 13:52 mark on a Mike Brown offensive put back.  Brown finished with five points on the night.

The Mocs pushed the lead as high as 19 points in a first half in which the team shot a blistering 53.8 percent from the field. The Catamounts managed to cut into the lead late in the half behind the bench play of Torrion Brummitt and Brandon Boggs who shot a combined 6-of-11 from the field, including 2-of-3 from behind the arc for Boggs and 4-of-7 from the free-throw line for Brummitt, for 19 of the teams 29 total first half points.  The Mocs led 43-29 at the break.

A degenerative Catamount head coach Larry Hunter had trouble finding his team on the court.

“I just scratch my head with the first half. I didn’t see my team out there. I didn’t think we were mentally ready to go,” coach Hunter said in his post-game comments.

Boggs led the Catamounts in scoring for the second-straight game with 21 points.  He came off the bench in both games.  Trey Sumler, the team’s leading scorer and SoCon Player of the Week Feb. 5-11, could not find an answer to the Chattanooga defensive pressure scoring 10 points on the night.

Western Carolina (12-18, 8-9 SoCon) found a rhythm in the second half behind Boggs and Tawaski King.  The Catamounts got the lead down to two with 5:29 left in the game, but the Moc would not be denied offensively quickly pushing the lead back to 8.  King, who went scoreless in the first half, scored all 12 of his points in the second half, including an emphatic follow-up dunk on a missed layup by James Sinclair, that got the Catamounts within three points with just over two minutes remaining.  King pulled down 12 rebounds to tab his second double-double on the season.

“We played like our ourselves in the second half; we just have to stop digging ourselves in a hole,” Boggs said.

Freshman guard Gee McGhee, a native of Baton Rouge, L.A., contributed 12 points with 8-of-13 from the free-throw line and Ronrico White added another 19 points on an efficient 5-of-7 from the field, including 2-of-3 from 3-point range.  With the shot clock running down and the Mocs clinging to a two-point lead with 1:32 remaining, White dribbled to his right, pulled up from a foot behind the 3-point line, and nailed the jumper.  The Catamounts would not score the rest of the way.

The two teams combined to shoot a jaw-dropping 64 free throws on the night, with the Mocs making 26-of-39 and the Catamounts hitting 18-of-25.  Chattanooga outscored Western 38-to-20 on points in the paint and a whopping 22-to-5 on points off turnovers.

Chattanooga (13-17, 8-9 SoCon) came in to the game off a conference win against North Division champion Elon on Feb. 23.  Head coach John Shulman was proud of the way his team hung on in a tough road test.

That was a rattled game because they came back and cut it to two points, and they were pressuring, but we never got rattled. It was crazy but we never lost our composure,” coach Shulman said in his post-game comments.  “That was a nice sound at the end of that game. There’s nothing better than winning on the road and hearing that silence.”

The Mocs silenced any talks of Western Carolina getting the first-round bye heading into the tournament.  The Catamounts can obtain the five-seed with a win to close out the regular season and some help from other teams in the conference.

Western Carolina hosts the Samford Bulldogs Saturday at 4:30 p.m. in the Ramsey Center in the back-end of a double-header.