CULLOWHEE, N.C. — Z. Mason kept hope alive for the Chattanooga on Thursday evening, leading his team to an 81-72 win at Western Carolina.The 6-5 junior scored 25 points and grabbed a career-high 14 rebounds to keep UTC in the hunt for the fourth and final first-round bye in next week's Southern Conference Tournament in Asheville, N.C.
Mason finished 7-for-10 from the field and 11-for-14 from the free-throw line, while sophomore Ronrico White added 19 points and four boards in the hard-fought victory.
Brandon Boggs led the Catamounts with 21 points and three rebounds, while Tawaski King added a double-double with 12 points and 12 boards.
Chattanooga (13-17, 8-9 SoCon), which never trailed in the contest, held a 43-29 advantage at the break, and its strong start came in handy as Westerm was determined to make it a game. The Catamounts did just that as Preston Ross capped his team's 11-2 run with a layup at the 13:50 mark, trimming the deficit to 53-48.
Freshman Casey Jones started a 7-2 spurt for the Mocs with a layup to answer Ross' bucket, and Freshmen Alex Bran and Eric Robertson followed suit. Bran hit a crucial trey from the corner before Robertson rocked the rim to make the score 60-50 with just less than 11 minutes remaining.
Western didn't wilt
It pulled to within three, on a King free throw with 6:29 remaining, and Boggs made it two-point game twice in the Cats' next three trips down court. The Mocs stayed strong, though.
Clinging to a 66-64 lead with 4:36 to play, freshman Gee McGhee's strong drive to the basket made it 68-64, and a defensive stop was followed by two White free-throws to extend the lead to six. A Western turnover only fueled Chattanooga's charge.
Jones' dunk with 2:47 to play stretched the Mocs' lead to eight.
Western's Trey Sumler buried a 3-pointer eight seconds later, and King's dunk just 33 ticks after that once again made it a one-score game with 2:06 left.
UTC made the winning plays down the stretch, though.
Junior Sam Watson corralled his own miss in tight traffic for the put-back, extending it a five-point game, 74-69, while White drilled a contested 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down, making it a five-point affair with 47 seconds to play. Mason's three-point play extended the lead to eight, 80-72, all but sealing the win.
McGhee finished with 12 points, three rebounds, three assists and four steals—tying his career high. Chattanooga shot 54.2 percent (26 of 48) from the field, and also made a season-high 26 free-throws in the game that featured 53 fouls called.