CULLOWHEE, N.C. --- Z. Mason (Nashville, Tenn.) kept hope alive for the Chattanooga Mocs (13-17/8-9) leading his squad to an 81-72 win at Western Carolina (12-18/8-9) Thursday night. Mason scored 25 points and grabbed a career-high 14 rebounds to put UTC in the hunt for the final bye in the Southern Conference Championship.
Mason was seven-of-10 from the field and 11-14 from the free throw line to tally his 25. The 11 free throws made and 14 attempted are both career highs. Ronrico White (Knoxville, Tenn.) added 19 points and four boards in a winning cause.
Brandon Boggs led the Catamounts with 21 points and three rebounds. Tawaski King added a double-double with 12 points and 12 boards.
Chattanooga came out of halftime with a 14-point cushion, 43-29. Its strong start came in handy as Western came out determined to make it a game. Preston Ross did just that capping an 11-2 run with a layup at 13:50 to trim the lead to 53-48.
Casey Jones (New Orleans, La.) started a 7-2 spurt for the Mocs with a layup to answer Ross' bucket. Alex Bran (Memphis, Tenn.) and Eric Robertson (Huntsville, Ala.) followed suit. Bran hit a big trey from the corner and Robertson rocked the rim to make it 60-50 UTC with just less than 11 minutes to go.
Western did not wilt. It got to within three, 62-59 at the 6:26 mark on a King free throw. Boggs closed it to a two-point game twice in the Cats' next three possessions, but the Mocs stayed strong.
Up 66-64 with 4:36 to play, Gee McGhee (Baton Rouge, La.) drove to the basket to make it 68-64. A defensive stop was followed by two White free tosses for a six-point lead. A Western turnover only fueled the Mocs' charge. Jones' monster jam with 2:47 to play extended the lead to eight, 72-64.
There was still a lot of game left. Trey Sumler buried a three-pointer eight seconds later to slice the margin to five. King's tip dunk 33 ticks later made it a three-point lead, 72-69, with 2:06 left. It was the Mocs turn to take advantage of second chances.
Sam Watson (Knoxville, Tenn.) corralled his own miss in tight traffic for the put-back extending it a five-point lead, 74-69. Boggs kept the pressure on the visitors answering with his fourth three of the game to cutting it to two, 74-72.
UTC made the winning plays down the stretch. White drilled a three over his defender with the shot clock winding down to make it a five-point affair with 47 to play. Sumler errant pass gave the Mocs the ball back at 35.5. Mason got the ball clear and drove to the basket for the basket and the foul. His three-point play swelled the lead back to eight, 80-72. White scored the final point at the free throw line for the 81-72 triumph.
McGhee chipped in 12 points with a career-high tying four steals to go with three rebounds and three assists. Chattanooga shot 54.2 percent (26-48) from the field including three-of-eight from three-point range. It also made a season-high 26 free throws in a game that featured 53 fouls called.
The Mocs limited Western Carolina to 38.3 percent shooting from the field. The Cats shot 72 percent from the line making 18 of 25. The Cats grabbed 19 offensive rebounds winning the battle of the boards 37-33.
The UTC perimeter defense was vital. It held Sumler and Tom Tankelewicz to just 17 points on the night with 10 and seven, respectively. The duo torched the Mocs for 46 points in the home loss to the Cats in January.
It was quite a start for Chattanooga. It came out of the gates for a 12-0 lead before WCU tallied its first points on Mike Brown's layup more than six minutes into the contest. Mason, who scored 18 of his points in the first 20 minutes, made it 16-2 on a layup with 12:46 to go.
Torrion Brummitt made it an eight-point game, 20-12, with basket with 10:34 before intermission. The Mocs went on a 23-12 run over the next nine minutes to take it largest lead, 43-24. McGhee capped that spurt with two free throws. The Cats closed that lead to 14 going into the half on Sumler's three and two Brummitt free throws.
It was a pivotal road win for Chattanooga giving it a chance to earn the fourth bye for the SoCon Championship. The regular season ends on Saturday with the Mocs moving on to Appalachian State. It is a full UTC invasion with the Lady Mocs facing App State following the 2 p.m., men's tip.
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