Western Carolina (11-15, 8-6 SoCon) at Elon (17-8, 10-3 SoCon)
Feb. 16, 2013, 7:00 p.m.
Elon, North Carolina, Alumni Gym (1,500)
Game Preview: Another crucial matchup in Southern Conference action on Saturday night will take place between the Western Carolina Catamounts and the Elon Phoenix. A win by Elon could all but clinch the SoCon North Division crown, while a Western Carolina win keeps the Catamounts alive for a Southern Conference Tournament Top Four seed the opening-round bye that goes with it.
Saturday night's meeting between the Catamounts and Phoenix will mark the 93rd all-time meeting between the two programs on the college basketball hardwood, with Elon holding a commanding 53-39 all-time series edge. The two have already met once this season, with Elon coming away from the Ramsey Center with an 80-67 win back on Jan. 14.
Both teams come in off of victories, with Elon posting a come-from-behind, 61-58, win over Appalachian State, while Western Carolina was able to post a 70-68 win just up the road at UNC Greensboro, posting a 70-68 win over the Spartans at the Greensboro Coliseum. The Catamounts won both weeknight games this past week by a combined three points, as the Purple and Gold also posted a 57-56 win over Wofford on Monday night at the Ramsey Center.
Western enters Saturday night's contest winners of three-straight, while Elon enters having won nine of its last 10 games. Elon's 13-point win over the Catamounts back on Jan. 14 marked Western's first Southern Conference loss of the 2012-13 season, and marked the start of a seven-game winning streak for the Phoenix.
The Catamounts, who made it to the Southern Conference title game last season, got hot about this time last season, winning seven-straight before losing in the title game to the Davidson Wildcats. That late-season streak by the Catamounts in 2012-13 included a dramatic overtime win at Elon's Alumni Gym on Feb. 19 of last season.
The Catamounts enter Saturday night's contest with the SoCon's second-best scorer, in Trey Sumler (18.1 PPG, 4.6 APG, 2.8 APG). It was Sumler who poured in 32 points the last time the Catamounts and Phoenix did battle on the SoCon hardwood back on Jan. 14. Sumler's 3.8 assists per game also ranks him tied for fifth in that particular category.
Sumler will be joined by three other guards in head coach Larry Hunter's starting rotation on Saturday night, as the Catamounts favor the "small-ball" approach, which was of course once made famous by the Phoenix Suns in the NBA under the direction of Paul Westphal. Joining Sumler in the Catamount backcourt on Saturday night will be Brandon Boggs (10.1 PPG, 3.8 RPG), Tom Tankelewicz (9.7 PPG, 3.1 RPG) and James Sinclair (7.0 PPG, 4.6 RPG).
Tankelewicz has been a pleasant surprise for the Catamounts scoring-wise this season, and he comes in as one of the SoCon's top outside shooters, ranking second on the league with 64 triples on the campaign. Boggs has been playing some of his best basketball of late, and he enters having reached double figures in seven of the last nine games, including 11 on Thursday night against the Spartans.
Rounding out the starting five for the Catamounts will be Tawaski King (11.4 PPG, 5.8 RPG), who is quietly once again having a nice season for Larry Hunter's Catamounts. King enters the matchup with the Phoenix ranking third in the Southern Conference in field goal percentage, connecting at a 53.8-percent clip froma the field.
Elon continues to be led by the inside-outside punch of guard Jack Isenbarger (14.2 PPG, 3.4 RPG) and forward Lucas Troutman (15.7 PPG, 5.1 RPG) in now Matt Matheny's fourth season at the helm of the Elon basketball program. Troutman, who leads the team in scoring, but sat out the game against Appalachian State with a sprained ankle.
The 6'10" forward, who started every game prior to the Appalachian State contest, has been named Southern Conference Player of the Week twice this season, while leading the Southern Conference in blocked shots (50 blocks/2.1 BPG) and ranking second overall in the SoCon in field goal percentage (54.1%). Meanwhile, Isenbarger leads the SoCon in three-pointers, made having knocked down 68 treys so far on the campaign.
The Phoenix didn't seem to miss Troutman all that much on Thursday night against the Mountaineers, buoyed by a career night by Ryley Beaumont (11.0 PPG,6.6 RPG), who posted 22 points and 13 points to power Elon past Appalachian State.
Beaumont is easily having his best season for the Maroon and Gold, in this his junior campaign, and if Troutman can't start on Saturday night, look for Egheosa Edomwonyi (1.2 PPG, 1.3 RPG) to round out the starters in the low-post, while Kevin Blake (1.9 PPG, 1.1 RPG) and Sebastian Koch (9.2 PPG, 4.8 RPG) round out the Elon starters in the backcourt.
Look for the Catamounts and Phoenix to engage in one of the best Southern Conference battles of the afternoon, but I expect the Phoenix to move to 18-8 and move ever closer to a first SoCon North Division crown under Matt Matheny.
Final Score Prediction: Elon 88, Western Carolina 85