CULLOWHEE, N.C. - Following a thrilling two-point victory in the South Carolina Lowcountry, the Western Carolina men's basketball team is seeking its first 2-0 Southern Conference start since the 2013-14 season which saw the Catamounts open conference play with four-straight wins. Up next for the Catamounts is a battle with the Mocs from Chattanooga in a city where WCU has just three victories in 39 attempts. UTC is off to an unfamiliar 0-1 conference start after falling to Samford in its conference opener. The Catamounts have had several standout performances this season including the most recent 19-point, eight steal, eight rebound game by freshman Desmond Johnson at The Citadel. The rookie is one of four Catamount newcomers who have all scored at least 18 points in a game this season. WCU has seen seven different players lead the team in scoring over the first 13 games which gives head coach Larry Hunter more lineup options than in the past couple of seasons. Thursday night's contest is part of a doubleheader with the UTC women's basketball team and tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 pm. Coverage is available via the Catamount Sports Network and ESPN3.
Western Carolina (5-8, 1-0 SoCon) at Chattanooga (6-8, 0-1 SoCon)
Thursday, Jan. 4 | 7:30 p.m. | Chattanooga, Tenn. | McKenzie Arena (10,928)
WCU vs. Chattanooga Opening Tip:
The Catamounts and Mocs meet for the first time this season Thursday night and for the 90th time overall.
WCU has just three wins all-time in Chattanooga over the Mocs with the last coming during the 2012-13 season.
The Mocs have won three-straight in the series including sweeping the two seasonal meetings in 2016-17. WCU dropped a hard-fought 77-65 decision in Chattanooga last February.
Current redshirt-senior Haboubacar Mutombo led WCU with 17 points in that 12-point loss last year. He also corralled a team-high tying eight rebounds. WCU had four scorers reach double-figures including current Catamounts Devin Peterson (12 pts.) and Onno Steger (10 pts.).
Chattanooga had four double-digit scorers including Casey Jones (19), Justin Tuoyo (15), Johnathan Burroughs-Cook (12) and Tre' McLean (12). The top returning Moc from that contest is Rodney Chatman who had 5 points in the victory.
WCU is off to a 1-0 start in Southern Conference play for the eighth time under head coach Larry Hunter. In six of the previous seven 1-0 starts the Catamounts have at least extended it to 2-0, the lone outlier was coach Hunter's first season at WCU where the Catamounts started 1-0 and fell in their second conference game.
A win by WCU would mark the first 2-0 start by the Catamounts in conference play since the 2013-14 season when the Catamounts won their first four conference contests.
The Mocs are off to their first 0-1 conference start since the 2012-13 season. UTC went on to win its next to conference games to start the year at 2-1 following the setback.
The last 0-2 start by the Mocs was during the 2011-12 season when UTC dropped its first two SoCon contests to Georgia Southern and the College of Charleston before righting the ship against WCU.
Catamounts and Mocs
The Catamounts and Mocs rivalry dates back to the 1969-70 season.
WCU trails in the series 24-65 but the Catamounts have won 10 of the last 25 meetings between the two teams under head coach Larry Hunter.
Prior to last season's series sweep by the Mocs, WCU and UTC split the regular season meetings between the two squads over the previous two seasons with each team winning on their home courts.
UTC ended WCU's bid for the 2016 Southern Conference Championships as the Mocs defeated the Catamounts 73-69 in the conference semifinals.
The Catamounts have won just three times in Chattanooga over the Mocs all-time.
WCU won at Chattanooga in 2000, 2007 and 2013. Prior to the 1999-00 season, WCU was 0-23 at Chattanooga.
Near Record-Breaking Performance
Freshman Desmond Johnson put on a show in Charleston to open Southern Conference play.
The Memphis, Tenn., native led the team in scoring (19 pts) and steals (8) while ranking second in rebounding (8) despite being one of the shortest players on the court.
Johnson nearly toppled a 49-year old Western Carolina record as he made eight steals against the Bulldogs of The Citadel. The WCU single game record is nine steals which was set back during the 1967-68 season by WCU Hall of Famer Henry Logan.
Many of the eight steals were one-on-one thefts by the freshman point guard as he picked the pocket of The Citadel offensive player including a stretch of three-straight Citadel possessions late in the first half.