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Surprising Western Carolina up next for Bucs

Joe Avento • Jan 18, 2020 at 10:00 AM

Western Carolina has been the surprise of the Southern Conference so far this basketball season, and the Catamounts certainly have the attention of East Tennessee State coach Steve Forbes.

The two teams meet Saturday at 7 p.m. inside Ramsey Center in Cullowhee, North Carolina. It’s a battle of teams with one loss in the conference and it’s the game of the week in the SoCon.

“I’ve listened to Coach (Mark) Prosser, they’re kind of playing that disrespect card,” Forbes said. “I ain’t playing that. I ain’t buying that. There’ll be no disrespect on our end. We’ll go down there knowing it’s going to be a really, really tough game.

“It’s a tough league, man. That’s why you can’t peak ahead, peak behind. You just look around the corner. You have to keep playing. Then at the end, you add it up. That’s the mentality our players have and that’s the mentality we’ll continue to have.”

ETSU DOMINANCE

ETSU has won 25 of the last 26 meetings with the Catamounts, including all eight games under Forbes. Western Carolina’s only win during that time came in the 2015 SoCon tournament quarterfinals, which turned out to be Murry Bartow’s final game as ETSU’s coach.

Forbes said he heard the PA announcer giving scores in other SoCon games during his team’s win over Samford on Wednesday night. He told his players not to pay any attention.

“I told my team, we just have to run our own race,” Forbes said. “It don’t matter what the score is in any other gym but our gym.”

BETTER THAN ADVERTISED

The Catamounts were the last team to lose a SoCon game and come into the contest 12-4 overall, 4-1 in the conference. They’ve won all seven of their home games.

Mason Faulkner, a 6-foot-1 transfer from Northern Kentucky, leads Western Carolina in scoring at 18.1 points per game. Big man Carlos Dotson averages 13.9 points and 8.9 rebounds, while Kingsport’s Matt Halvorsen is averaging 11.6 points and shooting better than 45 percent from 3-point range.

“They’re vastly improved,” Forbes said. “Carlos Dotson is one of the premier post players in the league. Halvorsen can shoot it. Then you add Faulkner, who’s fighting for player of the year right now. They’re good.”

SHARING THE LOAD

ETSU, 16-3 overall and 5-1 in the SoCon, has quite a few pieces of its own. The Bucs have had seven different players lead them in scoring this year, a mark surpassed by only Merrimack College, which has had eight.

“It’s just depth and that’s the way this team is put together,” Forbes said. “They believe in themselves and they don’t care who leads them in scoring. They just don’t care. It’s easy to say that, but they believe it. They just want to win.”

ETSU’s leading scorer Tray Boyd, who averages 13.3 points per game, has not started a game this season. He has more points off the bench than any other player in the country.

BETTER THAN GOOD

The last time these two teams met in Cullowhee, Patrick Good set the ETSU single-game record by making 11 3-pointers.

“That was a lovely day,” Boyd said. “We always want Pat to shoot. We feel like every night he can do that. Whether he’s on or off, we’re going to keep encouraging him to shoot the ball. Everybody has to play their own role, run their own race and do what we’re supposed to do when we’re supposed to do it. It’s a game we want to win.”

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