CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - The Western Carolina men’s basketball team entered Saturday night’s contest at Chattanooga with upset on its mind and nearly pulled off the feat as the Mocs used a late push to down the Catamounts 77-65. WCU overcame a 13-point deficit and led midway through the second half but the seasoned Mocs found their shooting stroke late and pulled away down the stretch.
WCU placed four scorers in double-figures led by junior Haboubacar Mutombo who followed up his 19-point Thursday night performance with 17 against the Mocs. The Pickering, Ontario, native knocked down eight of his 14 shots from the field while corralling a team-high tying eight rebounds. Senior Kyle Rhoades turned in the greatest performance of his Catamount career as he nearly double his previous career-high of seven points with 13 Saturday night. Rhoades was a perfect 4-for-4 from the field including 2-for-2 from long range while knocking down three of his four free throws.
Junior Devin Peterson added 12 points and a team-high four assists to the upset effort while freshman Onno Steger knocked down a pair of 3-pointers in route to a 10 point performance. Sophomore Marc Gosselin also had a strong outing as he scored seven points while tying Mutombo for the rebounding lead with eight caroms.
WCU had its third best shooting night of the season as the Catamounts connected on 55.6 percent of its attempts from the field including 50.0 percent from 3-point range. The Mocs struggled in the first half hitting just 40.9 percent from the field but responded in the second half by hitting 57.7 percent of their shots as they pulled away for the victory.
The area that hurt the Catamounts the most was the turnover column. WCU turned the ball over 19 times which led directly to 20 Chattanooga points. The Mocs turned the ball over 12 times but WCu was only able to convert those mistakes into four points.
Chattanooga placed four scorers in double-figures as well led by Casey Jones who had 19 points and six rebounds. Justin Tuoyo, who eclipsed the 1,000 career point mark in the contest, had 15 points off the bench while Johnathan Burroughs-Cook and Tre McLean each added 12.
The victory improved UTC’s record to 17-6 overall and 8-3 in SoCon play while the Catamounts fell to 7-18 overall and 2-10 in league action.
UTC jumped out to an early 11-4 lead and continued to control the action most of the first half eventually building up a 27-14 lead with 7:04 left. Minutes later WCU began a 9-2 run to cut the deficit to just three with 1:51 left in the opening half. The run was sparked by a pair of Rhoades 3-pointers. WCU would trim the lead to two with just under 30 seconds remaining as Maurice Smith connected on a layup. A pair of Chattanooga free throws gave the Mocs a 35-31 lead at the halftime break.
Back-to-back jumpers by Peterson and Mutombo to open the second half tied the game at 35 with 18:39 left in the game. WCU would take its first lead of the game minutes later as Mutombo hit a jumper in the lane to give the Catamounts a 40-39 edge. The lead would bounce back-and-forth before a Peterson jumper gave WCU the 44-42 lead which the Catamounts held for nearly three minutes before a McLean 3-pointer with 11:26 left retook the lead for UTC.
The Mocs would not trail the rest of the game as they quickly opened up a six point edge which would slowly balloon to 10 points with 6:40 remaining. UTC’s lead would jump to 12 on an old-fashioned 3-point play by Burroughs-Cook with 5:30 left but the Catamounts did not go away. WCU cut the deficit to seven on two separate occasions but that would be as close as the Catamounts would get as five-straight points by the Mocs closed out the game giving UTC a 77-65 victory.
WCU will now have a week off to prepare for in-state rival UNCG who visits the Ramsey Center Saturday, Feb. 11 at 2 pm.