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Western Carolina Looks To Hand Mercer Consecutive Conference Losses For The First Time Since 2011-12

Weather played havoc on the Southern Conference basketball schedule yesterday, and one of the games moved to Sunday was the one between Mercer and Western Carolina. Parts of Western North Carolina were leveled by as much as a foot of snow, however, it could only delay the game one day, as Mercer has arrived from their recent loss at East Tennessee State looking to get back into the winning column on the SoCon road, where it has been nearly impossible to get a win this season.

Mike Brown Looks To Lead Catamounts To Upset Win Over Mercer Sunday
Mike Brown Looks To Lead Catamounts To Upset Win Over Mercer Sunday
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Mercer (14-5, 4-2 SoCon) at Western Carolina (7-12, 2-4 SoCon)

CULLOWHEE, N.C.--Weather played havoc on the Southern Conference basketball schedule yesterday, and one of the games moved to Sunday was the one between Mercer and Western Carolina. Parts of Western North Carolina were leveled by as much as a foot of snow, however, it could only delay the game one day, as Mercer has arrived from their recent loss at East Tennessee State looking to get back into the winning column on the SoCon road, where it has been nearly impossible to get a win this season.

In fact, coming into Sunday's clash between the Catamounts and Bears, SoCon teams are nearly unbeatable at home so far this season, including a pair of thrilling wins by both ETSU and Furman yesterday. Western remains the only league team the Bears have not defeated on the Southern Conference hardwood as a league member.

Mercer comes into one of the more hostile environments in the Southern Conference looking to avenge what were a pair of losses to the Catamounts last season, as Western was one of only two teams to register the season sweep of the Bears.

Western claimed a rare 58-54 win over the Orange and Black clad Bears in Macon last season in a Feb. 12, 2015 meeting, while also posting a 60-52 win in the Ramsey Center on Jan. 22, 2015.

The Catamounts have made the Ramsey Center among the toughest venues to win at in the Southern Conference, having posted a 100-39 record on the home floor under Larry Hunter, including a 7-2 record on the home floor. Both of Western's losses on the home floor have come against visiting foes, as East Tennessee State and most recently, The Citadel, who came to Cullowhee last Thursday and handed the Catamounts a heartbreaking 92-91 setback on the home floor.

Sunday's SoCon meeting between the Catamounts and Bears marks the 10th all-time clash between the two schools, with Western holding a 5-4 series advantage. Interestingly, one of the meetings between the two as non-conference foes took place during Western's 1995-96 season, which was of course Western's lone SoCon title-winning season campaign, as the Bears got an 87-83 win in a late November clash in an early-season tournament game at The Pit in Albuquerque. It would be the same venue the Catamounts returned to in March as the No. 16 seed, where it nearly became the first No. 16 to knock off a No. 1, falling 73-71 to Gene Keady's Big Ten champion Purdue Boilermakers.

Crucial Game:

Sunday's game marks what is a crucial game for both Mercer and Western Carolina. The Catamounts look to put an end to a three-game skid in league play after getting off to a 2-1 start in SoCon play, while Mercer looks to avoid its first two-game losing game losing streak

Since joining the Southern Conference last season, Bob Hoffman's Bears have not loss consecutive Southern Conference games bouncing back after each league loss last season. In fact, the last time that Mercer lost consecutive league games came back in its Atlantic Sun days, which was during the 2011-12 and a trip to the River City of Jacksonville, as the Bears dropped back-to-back games to Jacksonville (L, 81-75) and North Florida (L, 75-66) on Feb. 18 and 20 of that season.

Last Time In Cullowhee:

WCU 60, Mercer 52 (Jan. 22, 2015)

CULLOWHEE, N.C.--With Mercer leading 30-25 early in the second half, the Catamounts used a 10-1 run, which included five points from James Sinclair, as the Catamounts took a 35-31 lead. After Mercer tied the game, 35-35, the Catmounts responded with another run--this time a 10-2 spurt--taking a 45-37 lead. Western would see its lead increase to as much as 11 points, with Brandon Thompson hitting a turnaround layup with 2:31 left.

The Bears' lead could have been more heading into the locker room had it not been back-to-back buckets from Sinclair and Torrion Brummitt to cut the Bears' advantage from eight to four inside the final three minutes. Each team went scoreless for the final 1:27 of the half, as the Bears took the four-point lead into the halftime locker room.

The Catamounts would trail the contest by as many as nine points with seven minutes left in the opening half (23-14), however, Western Carolina would connect on 54.5% of its shots in the second half, and the Catamounts out-scored the Bears, 37-25, in the second half, as the Western pulled off one of its biggest wins of the season with the 60-52 win over Mercer Thursday night at the Ramsey Center.The Catamounts would trail the contest by as many as nine points with seven minutes left in the opening half (23-14), however, Western Carolina would connect on 54.5% of its shots in the second half, and the Catamounts out-scored the Bears, 37-25, in the second half, as the Western pulled off one of its biggest wins of the season with the 60-52 win over Mercer Thursday night at the Ramsey Center.

Sinclair, who was honored for recently crossing the 1,000-point plateau recently, led the Catamounts with 19 points in the contest, as he connected on 6-of-13 shots from the field. Sinclair also had five helpers, and finished the game with just one turnover.

Sinclair's backcourt mates Mike Brown and Rhett Harrelson were healthy compliments to Sinclair's game-high total in the points column, with the duo adding 12 and 11 points, respectively, to the Catamounts' cause in the win. Brown also added seven rebounds to his total, while nine of Harrelson's 11 points came on three clutch triples.

Mercer's scoring punch was led by Darious Moten, who posted 18 points on 4-of-7 shooting from the field, 1-for-2 from three-point range, and went 9-of-12 from the charity stripe, as the Bears were able to jump out to the initial lead by getting to the foul line.

Mercer finished the night going 16-for-26 (61.5%) from the line, and struggled shooting the basketball from the perimeter, hitting just 21.1% (4-for-19) from three-point range, while connecting on a season-low 29.6% (16-of-54) from the field. For Moten, it was his seventh-straight game in double figures, as he continued his torrid streak of big performances for the Bears.

Mercer made things difficult for the Catamounts in the opening half of play, as the Bears held the Catamounts to just 34.8% (8-for-23) in the opening half, however, it was only a four-point (27-23) lead for the Bears at the break. Like the Wofford game, Western had trouble scoring the basketball out of the gates, as the Purple and Gold didn't even hit double digits until 6:26 remaining in the half.

The Bears' lead could have been more heading into the locker room had it not been back-to-back buckets from Sinclair and Torrion Brummitt to cut the Bears' advantage from eight to four inside the final three minutes. Each team went scoreless for the final 1:27 of the half, as the Bears took the four-point lead into the halftime locker room.

Who To Watch: For Western Carolina, Mike Brown is having an outstanding season to this point, averaging 15.7 PPG and 5.5 RPG this season. Brown, who recently eclipsed the 1,000-point plateau for his career comes in ranking sixth in scoring in the SoCon, will need to have a big game today if the Catamounts hope to end their losing skid.

Rhett Harrelson is part of that dynamic Catamount backcourt, and he ranks second on the team scoring, with 14.0 PPG and 1.7 RPG. Harrleson leads the SoCon with 52 triples this season, which is five more than VMI's QJ Peterson.

Mercer's scoring is more spread around, with Jestin Lewis and Stephon Jelks leading the way, averaging 11.8 PPG and 11.7 PPG, respectively, while Jelks leads the SoCon in rebounding, at 9.1 RPG. Mercer forward Desmond Ringer ranks second in the SoCon in field goal percentage this season, connecting on 61.1% of his shots from the field.


What To Watch: Mercer leads the SoCon in rebounding margin (+10.4) and rank as one of the best defensive teams in the SoCon, ranking second in the league in scoring defense (64.5 PPG) and the Bears lead the league in field goal percentage defense (38.5%).

Western and Mercer represent two of the top perimeter defenses in the SoCon this season, with the Catamounts leading the league in defending the three-point arc (32.5%), while Mercer ranks second in three-point field goal percentage (32.6%).

Who Wins: Western upsets Mercer, 68-64