CHATTANOOGA, TENN. – Marcus Thomas tallied a career-high 32 points and Onno Steger had a career-best 30 as Western Carolina scored a season-high 105 points in a 105-96 win over Chattanooga at McKenzie Arena on Thursday night. The win gives Western Carolina consecutive victories in Chattanooga for the first time in program history following a 70-68 triumph on Feb. 1, 2018.
Western Carolina improves to 6-17 overall and 3-7 in the Southern Conference while Chattanooga drops to 10-13 and 5-5.
Thomas’ 32-point performance topped his previous career-high of 21 points against UNC Asheville on Dec. 17, 2017 and only trails Kameron Gibson’s 34 points at SMU as the top individual offensive output of the season. The Mint Hill, N.C. native went 12-for-17 from the field and 6-7 behind the 3-point line. Steger bested his previous high of 27 points at VMI on Jan. 19 thanks to a 6-for-13 game from the field and a 14-for-15 performance at the free throw line. Carlos Dotson tallied his 10th double-double of the year with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Gibson finished with 12 points. Matt Halvorsen dished out a team-leading five assists.
Kevin Easley led Chattanooga with 25 points followed by Donovann Toatley with 19, Jerry Johnson and Jonathan Scott both with 14 and Ramon Vila with 12. Easley and Johnson each had five rebounds.
After the Mocs opened the scoring with a Scott 3-pointer, the Catamounts went on an 11-2 run for a 11-5 lead at the 15:42 mark following a Thomas layup. Chattanooga answered with an 11-0 run, claiming a 16-11 advantage before Thomas evened the contest at 20 with just under nine minutes to play. A Thomas 3-pointer on the next WCU possession pushed the visitors ahead 23-22 with a Halvorsen 3-pointer evening the score at 29 with 6:13 left.
Chattanooga claimed a 40-32 edge after a pair of Johnson free throws and led by six with 93 seconds left in the first half. Steger was fouled on a 3-point attempt with 48 seconds left and made all three free throws to bring the Catamounts within one, 44-43. Toatley sank a layup on the next Chattanooga possession but Steger’s 3-pointer with nine seconds remaining sent the Catamounts and Mocs into halftime tied at 46.
The teams traded the lead three times with four ties in the opening three minutes of the second half before Thomas sank a 3-pointer for a 60-57 edge at the 16:20 mark. The Mocs pulled within four, 65-61, but the Catamounts answered with an 8-2 run capped by a Dotson layup to lead 73-63 with 10:19 to play. WCU led by no fewer than five points until Chattanooga cut the Catamount lead to two, 84-82, on a Scott 3-pointer five minutes later.
WCU led 95-85 following a Dotson free throw with 2:29 remaining before the Mocs pulled within three, 97-94, thanks to an Easley 3-pointer with 92 seconds left. Gibson sank a key 3-pointer on the next WCU possession as the Catamounts led by no fewer than four points down the stretch.
Western Carolina went 33-for-58 (56.9 percent) from the field, 14-for-25 (56.0 percent) behind the 3-point line and 25-for-32 (78.1 percent) at the free throw line. Chattanooga was 33-for-67 (49.3 percent) from the field, 10-for-28 (35.7 percent) behind the 3-point line and 20-for-26 (76.9 percent) at the free throw line. The Catamounts outrebounded Chattanooga 35-29.
Western Carolina looks to sweep the season series against Samford as they face the Bulldogs at Pete Hanna Arena in Birmingham, Ala. Saturday at 3 p.m.