Young Cats win two straight in conference play

After five straight losses, the Western Carolina men’s basketball team has bounced back and won two straight in conference play. The Catamounts took on both UNC-Greensboro and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga over the past week and was able to get wins in both games to hopefully turn around what had become a struggling season in the past couple of weeks. The first game was on Saturday, January 6, at home against the Spartans of UNCG (6-8, 3-2). The Cats struggled for most of the game but were able to come from 12 points down to win. The first half was a close affair as UNCG was able to take control with an early 14-8 lead before going into the locker rooms with a 24-20 lead. The Spartans came out in the second half and showed why they had played NC State into overtime and eventually only lost by one point. UNCG broke loose to begin the half and went on a 10-2 run to make the score 34-22. The Cats clawed their way back to within five points, but the Spartans again broke loose and poured in five quick points to get back to a 10-point lead. The Catamounts never wavered in their attempt at a comeback, though, and eventually the Cats used a 6-0 spurt to take a 48-47 lead. Senior captain Kyle Greathouse was responsible for the lead as he stole an inbounds pass and drained a three-pointer. All-SoCon big man Kyle Hines of UNCG would not be stopped inside, and he hit a lay-up with 1:43 remaining to give the Spartans a 54-53 lead. The Catamounts would convert on four straight free throws to take the 57-54 lead. The Spartans could not hit a three-pointer at the buzzer and the Catamounts were able to pull off the shocking upset. The Spartans received good performances from both Kendall Toney and the big man Hines. Toney finished with 15 points and three steals, while Hines had 13 points and 12 rebounds but shot a miserable one for five from the free throw line. Western was bolstered in the winning effort by junior Antonio Russell, freshman Nick Aldridge, and JC-transfer Arnold Gore. The 6’7″ Aldridge led the team in scoring as he finished with 15 points and also pulled down eight rebounds. Russell finished with 14 points, while Gore scored 10 and grabbed nine rebounds. The Catamounts traveled for their next game against Chattanooga (7-10, 0-5) on Monday, January 8. The Cats carried their good play into this game as they started off very strong. The Cats established a 13-point lead in the first half, but turnovers set up a 15-4 Chattanooga run. With only a two-point lead left, the Cats went inside to Aldridge for two straight buckets and, as a result, had a 36-32 halftime lead. The Cats jumped out in the second half with a three-pointer by freshman Jake Robinson to push the lead to seven. The Mocs responded with two straight baskets of their own to whittle the lead back down to two. Instead of choking the Catamounts responded and pushed the lead back to 10 points with only seven minutes left in the game. The home team once again received a boost and raced back with an 8-0 run to cut the lead to 57-55. That’s when the junior Russell took over. The slick and quick guard poured in 12 points over the final five minutes to take control of the game and give the win to the Catamounts at 73-67. The Mocs had three in double figures led by Keddric Mays with 14 points. Casey Long had 12 points and six rebounds, while Nicchaeus Doaks had 11 points and eight rebounds. For the Catamounts the leader was Russell. Russell finished with 16 points and six rebounds. Aldridge contributed 15 points, while Gore had 12. Freshman point guard Brigham Waginger came off the bench to put up 10 points and seven rebounds. The Catamounts improved to 7-8 overall and 4-1 in the SoCon. The 4-1 mark is Western’s best conference start since the 1994-95 season. The win was only the second all-time for the Cats in McKenzie Arena, and as a result of their record, the Catamounts will take on Appalachian State on Monday January 15 with first place in the conference on the line. The App State game will be televised on FSN.