Western Carolina lost to conference rival East Tennessee State University 62-55 at the Ramsey Center Saturday night. The Catamounts never trailed by more than 10 and were as close as three with less than five minutes remaining in the contest. The Bucs, however, used their dominance inside to pull out the win.
The Cats got out to a quick start, scoring the game’s first six points and opening a 9-2 run. The squad held a 12-7 advantage with 15:45 left in the opening half, sparked by early 3-point baskets from junior forward Cory Largent and senior guard Ricky Gandy. After diminishing their lead, junior guard Casey Rogers hit yet another three to give Western a 19-15 edge, as the Catamounts would go 3-6 from beyond the arc in the first half.
Refusing to yield, the Bucs used the 3-pointer of senior guard D.J. McDuffie to pull even at 20 with 6:02 left in the half. The teams would trade baskets to close the half and go into the locker with ETSU clinging to a slim 30-29 lead.
Continuing their hot play, the Buccaneers opened the second half with a 12-6 run over the opening 6:50 of the second half to take a 42-35 edge. Rogers then hit the second of his three 3-pointers to draw the Cats to within four.
ETSU would again begin to slowly cushion their lead, and it stood at eight before Gandy, in the midst of scoring nine straight Catamount points, again drained a basket from downtown to pull Western to within 52-47 with 5:36 remaining on the clock.
Rogers connected on his final 3-pointer to put the score at 55-52 with 4:02 left in the contest. This is the closest the Cats would come, however, as Western big men junior Willie Freeman and freshman center Rans Brempong fouled out and the Bucs scored seven of the game’s final ten points to capture the seven-point triumph.
Head Coach Steve Shurina felt that the game’s final moments were determined by his team’s lack of size and the game’s exhaustive nature.
“We were a little tired at the end of the game and we’re not that big so it’s tough to rebound,” he said.
He was also quick to praise the team’s overall effort and felt that many of the game’s deciding factors were beyond the control of his players.
“They played they’re hearts out,” he said. “They can’t control the calls the refs make. They can’t control shots players make. They can’t control that we’re not that big.”
Junior forward Willie Freeman led the offensive attack for the Catamounts, keeping them close in the first half by scoring 15 of his career-high 17 in the opening stanza. He also pulled down nine of the squad’s 31 rebounds.
Gandy and Rogers each added 15, as Rogers chipped in five assists and four steals while Gandy hit 3-5 from the 3-point line.
McDuffie and junior guard Dimeco Childress led ETSU with 15 points each. Meanwhile, senior forward Renaldo Johnson and sophomore guard Ryan Lawson helped the Bucs to a 46-31 rebounding advantage with nine boards each.