If you were a true Catamount fan, you would not have lost faith in this year’s men’s basketball team and would have been at the Ramsey Center Monday night to see Western Carolina manhandle Georgia Southern, 88-65.
Western Carolina’s 23-point victory was its largest since defeating Chattanooga, 87-60, on Jan. 25, 1997. The win also ended the Cats’ 11-game losing skid, marked their first conference victory of the year, and improved their record to 6-1 versus GSU in games played in the Ramsey Center on six straight wins.
WCU fell behind 5-4 at the 17:49 mark, but when freshman Rams Brempong hit a lay-up a minute later, the Cats never trailed again. They pulled away from the Eagles over the next few minutes using a 12-0 run to make it 16-5 with 14:15 left in the half.
With the combination of Western’s great shooting and tenacious defense, the Cats took a 44-26 lead into intermission, shooting a surprising 59 percent from the field while holding GSU to only 28% shooting.
Junior Cory Largent scored 11 of his game-high 21 points before intermission, while Gandy knocked in 10 points. The 44 points were the most the Catamounts had scored in the first half this season and the 18-point deficit was the Eagles’ largest at the break in 2000-01.
Although the Eagles came out firing in the second half and pulled within 11 at 44-33 with 18:01, WCU maintained its poise and played good team ball just like the first half. The Eagles cut the Cat lead to 10; however, the home team stepped up to challenge and would not let Georgia Southern get any closer the rest of the game. Western Carolina used a 27-9 run to take its largest lead at 30, 86-56, and seal the Eagles’ fate.
Head coach Steve Shurina was not only pleased that the Cats got their first conference win, but with the way they did it.
“We put together a solid 40 minutes of basketball. There are a lot of people out there that were writing us off and a lot of people out there giving up on this team. They came out with fierce determination today, and, probably more than anything else, we beat them to every loose ball,” said Shurina.
He added, “It gives the guys a light at the end of a tunnel. They kept working hard, and finally saw the reward tonight.”
Another bright spot for the team was Brempong’s play. He scored 11 points and pulled down a game-high 13 rebounds to go along with six blocks. He now has 61 blocked shots for the season, setting a Western Carolina single-season record.
Shurina was impressed with his performance.
“Rans was unbelievable tonight. He has come a long way and keeps getting better and better,” Shurina said.
Largent led five Catamount in double figures. Along with his 21 points, he pulled down a career high 12 rebounds. Sophomore Kori Hatcher scored a career-high 16 points and dished off four assists. Gandy and Freeman scored 14 and 10, respectively. Freeman scored eight of his points after intermission.
Although Casey Rogers didn’t hit double figures, he did have one of his best all around games. Rogers finished with nine points, seven assists, five rebounds, and two steals.
The Catamounts traveled to Boone last Saturday to take on mountain-rival Appalachian State with hopes of breaking their losing streak. But the Mountaineers had other plans, cruising to an 87-75 victory.
Mountaineers Josh Shehan and Donald Payne combined for 40 points and 23 rebounds, as the Cats couldn’t find an answer for either one of them.
The Mountaineers jumped to a 10-point lead midway through the first half and pushed ahead 33-13 on a three-point play from junior guard Jonathan Butler with 5:36 to play in the half. Western didn’t help matters, as they only shot 9-26 (34%) in the first half as they trailed 39-25 going into the locker room.
The Catamounts shot better in the second half, but Appalachian State did likewise. The Catamounts closed to within 80-73 on a dunk from Brempong but could get no closer. Appalachian State held a 46-27 edge on the glass and hit 32-of-44 throws in the game.
Western Carolina was led by Largent, who finished with 16 points, all coming in the second half, and five rebounds. Largent hit five-of-six three-point attempts. Rogers added 15 points and six assists.
The Catamounts return to action at the Ramsey Center Saturday night as they do battle with the Keydets of VMI. The Cats look to avenge a one-point loss earlier in the season to VMI.
The game will start around 7:00 as part of a doubleheader with women’s action starting at 4:00 PM.