Poor shooting and falling behind early doomed the Western Carolina Catamounts as they dropped two non-conference games on the road.
The Cats watched as the Clemson Tigers of the ACC connected on eight first half three-pointers en route to a 87-52 win on Saturday, with the UNC Asheville Bulldogs limiting WCU to 19 first half points to pick up the win, 79-69, Monday night in the Asheville Civic Center.
Western Carolina falls to 1-6 overall after the two losses.
“In terms of basketball age, we’re a young team,” said Catamount head coach Steve Shurina. “We’re only seven deep and it’s hard to simulate in practice what we’re going to go up against.”
The Catamounts managed a mere 29 percent (eight of 27) shooting from the floor in the first half, while the Bulldogs of UNCA enjoyed a 47 field goal percentage (15-of-32) and a 38-19 lead at the break. UNCA raced out to a 14-2 advantage early on in the ball game.
Asheville guard Brett Carey, who wore the purple and gold two years ago, burned his former team for 20 points, 15 of which came in that first half.
Things seemed to be turning around for the Catamounts at the start of the second half. WCU into the 19-point deficit, but the Dogs, who are off to their best start in five years, continued to hold the Cats off, building their advantage to as many as 26 down the stretch.
However, Shurina and company never gave up. The Catamounts rallied late in the game, pulling to within nine at 69-60 on a Rans Brempong dunk. Yet, the clock and Bulldog free-throws thwarted the comeback.
“We got comfortable and relaxed late in the game. We executed the way we need to. But I give Asheville a lot of credit. They made shots when they needed to and made their free throws.”
Asheville head coach Eddie Biedenbach said, “We played some great defense in the first half and got a really balanced effort across the way. I didn’t like the way we struggled in the second half, but you have got to give [WCU] a lot of credit for no quitting when we built the lead up.”
The Catamounts put three in double figures, led by senior Corey Wells, who connected on six of his nine shots for 17 points. He also added seven boards, three assists, and a pair of steals in the losing effort.
Junior Cory Largent added 16 points, five boards, with sophomore guard Kori Hatcher pouring in ten points and four assists.
Casey Rogers and Rans Brempong both finished with eight points. Rogers added four assists and Brempong had a game-high five blocked shots. On the season, Brempong has 18 swats and is on pace to write his name in the WCU Record books.
As a team, the Catamounts did out rebound their mountain rival 39-33.
On Saturday, the Catamounts traveled south to Littlejohn Coliseum for a date on television with the Clemson Tigers. WCU hung tough, but couldn’t overcome the 50 percent (eight of 16) first half three-point shooting of the Tigers, falling 87-52.
“We just didn’t make shots early,” said Shurina. “We played good defense at the start as they didn’t score. But we didn’t score either.”
Western Carolina put two into double figures. Juniors Willie Freeman and Casey Rogers both totaled 13 points against the Tigers on the road. Freeman added eight rebounds and a block, with Rogers recording three assists.
Todd Seibert added seven points, eight boards, with Wells leading the team on the glass with nine rebounds.
The Tigers put three in double-digit scoring, led by Will Solomon and Jamar McKnight, both with 12.
Clemson, who for the most part towered over the Catamounts interior, attempted 30 three-pointers, connecting on 11.
“I wasn’t surprised they took that many three-pointers; I was surprised they made that many,” said Shurina. “[Clemson] came into the game focused after playing poorly against The Citadel.”
Western Carolina will try and get back on track this Thursday, as they return home to host Stetson. “We’ve got to bounce back and keep getting better and more mature. We’ve got to get ready for conference play,” Shurina said. Game time is 7:00pm in the Ramsey Center.