Western Carolina Heads to Wofford for a Crucial North-South SoCon Clash Tonight

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Western Carolina Heads to Wofford for a Crucial North-South SoCon Clash Tonight
Harouna Mutombo And Western Carolina Face Crucial Road Contest At Wofford

Western Carolina (9-13, 3-6 SoCon) at Wofford (14-8, 7-3 SoCon), 7 p.m.

GAME PREVIEW:

Wofford will look to keep things moving in a positive direction on Monday night, hosting Western Carolina at the Benjamin-Johnson Arena. Wofford enters Monday night's contest having won seven of its last nine games. They have won five straight to soar to second place in the Southern Conference South Division standings, while Western Carolina enters the contest having lost seven of its last nine games, including its last three outings.

Wofford was in action on Saturday afternoon, and the Terriers were able to complete the Charleston sweep by getting a 68-59 road win over the Cougars. Meanwhile, Western Carolina dropped a heartbreaker to UNC Greensboro, with an 89-86 overtime setback at the Greensboro Coliseum on Saturday afternoon.

Saturday's meeting will mark the second of the season between the Terriers and Catamounts, with Western Carolina picking up a 67-57 win in Cullowhee back on Jan. 7th.

The meeting between the Terriers and Catamounts will mark the two teams' 41st meeting on the hardwood, with Western Carolina holding a 23-18 series edge.

The 10-point win by WCU in early January helped snap a three-game losing streak to the Terriers, including two losses which came in the Southern Conference semifinal game each of the past two seasons. 

Wofford has gotten it done on the defensive end so far this season, continuing to lead the league in scoring defense with 61.6 PPG, entering Monday night's contest. Point guard Brad Loesing (14.0 PPG, 3.1 RPG) has really had to increase his role as a scorer in this, his senior season for the Old Gold and Black.

He enters the matchup continuing to rank third in the Southern Conference in assists, averaging 5.3 helpers per game. Loesing was an integral part of the foundation for the teams that claimed Southern Conference crowns in each of the past two seasons, and looks to maintain this role with his team that sits just six wins from a third-straight 20-win season.

In the first meeting between the Terriers and Catamounts this season, Loesing tied for team-high honors with 20 points in the 10-point setback to WCU.

 

Loesing was joined by Kevin Giltner (16.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG) in his leadership role.

Giltner currently leads the team in scoring and ranks fourth overall in the SoCon. Giltner is one of the deadliest shooters from the perimeter in the SoCon, and he enters the contest ranking third in the league in three-pointers made, having made 56 this season.

Giltner failed to reach double figures the first time these two met, scoring just eight points. Giltner is coming off a 15-point effort in the win over CofC, as he connected on 4-of-13 shots from the field, but was just 1-for-7 from three-point range in the contest.

Joining Loesing in the starting five in the backcourt Monday night will be talented freshman Karl Cochran (11.3 PPG, 4.7 RPG), who's making a strong case for Southern Conference Freshman of the Year honors. Cochran led the Terriers in scoring against the College of Charleston on Saturday afternoon at TD Arena, as he posted 18 points in the nine-point win.

Cochran has become known as the "College of Charleston killer," having posted team-leading performances in both meetings with the Cougars this season. He also posted a career-high 21 points in the first meeting with CofC. In Cochran's first-career encounter with the Catamounts this season, he was equally impressive, tying for team-high honors with 20 points in the 10-point loss. Cochran also shoots the ball well from the perimeter, as he enters the game having connected on 45 triples this season, which ranks second on the team.

Joining Giltner underneath the basket in head coach Mike Young's starting five on Monday night will be the reliable Drew Crowell (9.2 PPG, 5.3 RPG) and the powerful Aerris Smith (4.2 PPG, 2.9 RPG). Crowell came into the season with some huge shoes to fill, having to the replace two-time Southern Conference Player of the Year Noah Dahlman on the interior last season. Crowell is coming off a 12-point, seven-rebound performance in the win at College of Charleston on Saturday afternoon.

 

The Charleston native scored double figures in both of his games in his return to his hometown, as he also posted 12 points in Wofford's 62-55 win over The Citadel on Thursday night.

In the first meeting between the Catamounts and Terriers this season, Crowell posted just four points. Crowell continues to lead the league in field-goal percentage, entering the contest with a 61.8 percent clip for the season.   

Smith, a sophomore forward, rounds out the starting five for the Terriers, and he has basically taken on the role of what Tim Johnson gave the Terriers last season. He's not looked to as a scorer, but is good on the boards and is a hard worker underneath the basket. Smith is also a solid post defender, and posted two points in the previous meeting with the Catamounts this season.

The main players coming off the bench for the Terriers are Lee Skinner (4.9 PPG, 5.9 RPG) and Jarrell Byrd (2.3 PPG, 2.3 RPG), as both have been impressive this season, giving Wofford depth in the frontcourt. Skinner's 5.9 RPG leads the club. 

The Catamounts will enter this evening's matchup looking for their first conference victory since beating the Terriers, 67-57, back on Jan. 7th. In fact, since that meeting, the Catamounts have gone just 1-5 against competition. Additionally, since the first meeting with the Terriers, WCU is 0-5 against Division I foes. The lone win since that Jan. 7 meeting was a 141-39 victory over Toccoa Falls. 

Western Carolina enters the contest continuing to be led by one of the best backcourts in the SoCon,  led by leading scorer Harouna Mutombo (13.3 PPG, 6.0 RPG) and point guard Trey Sumler (12.7 PPG, 4.5 RPG). The Catamounts have gotten some big outings of late from Sumler, as he has led the Catamounts in scoring in each of the past five games, leading the Purple and Gold with 22 points in the 89-86 overtime loss to UNCG on Saturday.

 

Sumler was one of four players in double figures the first time these two teams met, as he posted 12 points in the 67-57 win earlier this season. Sumler has struggled shooting the ball from long range this season, connecting on just 24-of-73 from three-point range this season, which is a 32.9 percent clip for the season. 

Mutombo is a player that does the little things that enables the Catamounts to be in position to win in nearly every game they play. Mutombo is a good one-on-one defender and he rebounds the basketball better than any other player in Catamount in the lineup. The first time these two played, Mutombo was also one of those four Catamounts in double figures, as he finished the contest with 11 points in the 10-point victory. The last time out against the Spartans, Mutombo came off the bench for the Catamounts and he posted 14 points in that role the last time out.

One of the players that drew a rare start as a result of Mutombo coming off the bench the last time out was James Sinclair (2.6 PPG, 1.9 RPG). Sinclair, a 6-2 freshman guard from Savannah, GA., is an excellent defensive presence for the Purple and Gold. He scored just three points in the contest against the Spartans, but he gives the Catamounts great energy and work ethic in the backcourt. 

Another player that has spent most of his time coming off the bench this season has been point guard Keaton Cole (11.3 PPG, 1.6 RPG). Cole is one of the team's most prolific scoring threats for the Catamounts, and he leads the league in three-pointers made this season, as he has connected on 64 triples on the season. He is coming off a strong performance in Saturday's loss at UNC Greensboro, as he posted a team-leading 22 points and was 4-for-6 from three-point range in the heartbreaking setback. Cole led the Catamounts with 22 points the first time the Catamounts and Terriers got together on the basketball hardwood, tying a career-record with six triples in the contest.  

 

The front court will be comprised by Brandon Boggs (10.7 PPG, 3.7 RPG), who plays more like a combo guard, and Tawaski King (6.8 PPG, 4.9 RPG), who's coming off one of his most solid performances for the Catamounts, as he posted a double-double of 12 points and 11 boards the last time out. 

Boggs is one of the team's top athletes and defensive performers. He was solid in the first meeting with the Terriers this season, and finished on the cusp of double figures, as he finished the contest with nine points.

King is big and physical and has been able to stay out of foul trouble early in games lately. He has really stepped up and played well as of late, especially on the backboards. 

A couple of players that have really helped the Catamounts' cause off the bench this season have been Ishmael Hollis (3.7 PPG, 2.2 RPG) and Preston Ross (4.8 PPG, 3.9 RPG). Hollis a good perimeter shooter coming off the bench and Ross is a player that is a hard worker and good athlete. He has started 13 of the 22 games this season for the Catamounts. 

Quite simply, this game is much more critical to Western Carolina's cause than that of Wofford. The Catamounts must win this game tonight to stay in contention in the North Division. A loss tonight would put the two-time defending North Division champs a solid three games out of first place in the SoCon North. Wofford has played extremely well on its home floor this season, entering Monday night's encounter with an 8-1 mark on the home hardwood, with the only loss on the home floor coming at the hands of Davidson (72-69) back in early December. Terriers should be able to defend the home floor tonight, but it won't be as easy as some might think.

FINAL SCORE PREDICTION: WOFFORD 68, WESTERN CAROLINA 64

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