Young Cats no match for the ACC or SEC

The Western Carolina men’s basketball team recently traveled to South Carolina to take on the state’s finest, Clemson and the University of South Carolina. Unfortunately, the trip didn’t show off the Cats too much as Western was no match for either team. The Cats were blown out against #22 Clemson but did show improvement against South Carolina. On December 23, the young Cats went to Clemson University to take on the undefeated Clemson Tigers (12-0). Western, playing without three starters, was no match for the Tigers as they fell by 43 points. Western suspended Nick Aldridge, Arnold Gore and Brandon Giles for violation of team rules, but the Cats were still able to hang with the Tigers for most of the first half. The Cats had a 15-11 lead halfway through, and a Negus McKenna three-pointer put the Cats ahead 23-20. Unfortunately, this would be the Cats’ last lead of the game. The Tigers only led by one point before going on a 15-5 run with six minutes remaining in the half. The Cats played well in the half as they hit six three-pointers, but still trailed 44-29 going into the half. The Tigers finished off the Cats early in the second half with a 29-4 run that put them ahead 76-37. The Tigers would eventually win the game 103-60. Leading the way for the Tigers was K.C. Rivers. Rivers finished the game with 24 points and eight rebounds. Rivers knocked down six three-pointers in the game. Also playing well for the Tigers was Cliff Hammonds, James Mays, Vernon Hamilton and Matt Morris. Hammonds had 17 points while Morris had 11, and they combined to hit five three-pointers between them. Hamilton and Mays both played good all-around games as Hamilton finished with 12 points, five assists, and five steals, while Mays had 14 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists, and four blocks. For the Catamounts, juniors Negus McKenna and Antonio Russell were the only players un-phased by the Tigers’ athleticism. McKenna finished with 16 points and six rebounds as he hit four three-pointers. Russell put up 13 points and three steals. The Catamounts played a lot better in their second trip to South Carolina on January 3. This time, the young Cats faced a Gamecocks’ squad that had a solid record (10-2) but against weak competition. The Cats gave the Gamecocks plenty before falling 67-53. The Catamounts struggled in the first half as South Carolina led by 11 at one point, but the Cats showed no surrender and responded with a 17-7 run to end the half. The Catamounts would go into the half only down one point at 29-28. Western would take a second half lead briefly at 35-34 with 16:52 left, but the Gamecocks used an 8-0 run to propel them into the lead and on to victory. The Cats climbed back to within two points with eight minutes remaining, but the Gamecocks tightened the clamps on defense and held Western scoreless for six minutes on their way to the 67-53 win. South Carolina had three in double figures led by Bryce Sheldon. Sheldon had 20 points as he hit four treys. Brandis Raley-Ross came off the bench to give USC 18 points, while Dominique Archie injected 11 points and five rebounds into the starting lineup. Brandon Wallace pulled down 12 rebounds for South Carolina. South Carolina shot 50% from the field in the second half and hit 22 of 28 free throws in the game. Western Carolina also put three in double figures. Freshman Jake Robinson led the way with 13 points and three steals, while fellow freshman Nick Aldridge had 12 points. The other double digit scorer was McKenna who finished with 11 points and six rebounds off the bench. The Cats hit all of their free throws as they shot two for two. While the whistle didn’t blow their way very often in the game, the Cats still played valiantly, but with the loss fell to 5-9 on the year.