Monday night in the Ramsey Center, everyone got to see what a rivalry is all about: bragging rights and two teams wanting to move up in the Southern Conference standings heading down the wire in league play.
Despite a season-high 3,121 boisterous fans in the arena, the Appalachian State Mountaineers (9-15, 6-5) won their third-straight, coming out on top with a 63-59 victory over Western Carolina (4-20, 2-9).
The Cats fell to another mountain rival, East Tennessee State, Saturday 98-47 in Johnson City.
Both WCU and ASU came out fired up, hoping to gain an early advantage. There were four lead changes and three ties early on with the Mountaineers clinging to a 13-11 lead at the 11:38 mark.
The Apps increased their lead to five just seconds later when freshman Noah Brown hit one of his game-high six three-pointers. However, the Cats fought back and cut that margin to one at 26-25 when junior Casey Rogers found his old friend Cory Largent for an alley-oop slam that brought the Ramsey crowd to its feet. App State took a 28-25 advantage into the locker room.
The Mountaineers started out the second half on a 14-4 run to gain a 42-29 lead with 16:12 left in the game. Brown stepped up again for ASU as he scored eight of his game high 20 points during this run.
The Catamounts were challenged and again answered with an 11-0 run of their own, cutting the ASU lead to two when Rogers buried a three-pointer at the midway point of the half.
Rogers stepped up again as he hit a driving lay-up to cut the Mountaineer lead to 56-54, with only 3:10 left. However, that would be as close as the Catamounts would get for the rest of the game. The Mountaineers hit some key baskets down the stretch as WCU missed four out of its last five shots over the final two and a half minutes to seal the victory.
Despite only losing by four points, head coach Steve Shurina said that the team is going to have to shoot better if it wants to win games.
“We are going to have a hard time winning games when we shoot 34 percent from the floor. I felt like we got a lot of great looks in the second half, but we couldn’t knock them down,” Shurina said.
He also mentioned that the team has to move on and try to improve.
“I told them from here on out, everyday we come to practice, we’re going to practice as hard as we possibly can, and you are going to get better,” added Shurina.
The Catamounts were led by a trio of juniors. Willie Freeman paced WCU for the second straight game as he poured in 14 points and eight boards.
The Morganton Freedom-tandem in Largent and Rogers also scored in double figures. Largent scored 13 to go along with seven boards, while Rogers chipped in with 12 points to go along with three assists and three steals. Rogers is now only three assists shy of moving into seventh place all time in assists with 460.
Appalachian was led in scoring by Brown. Sophomore forward Josh Shehan and junior Donald Payne both recorded double-doubles in the win. Shehan scored 11 points and pulled down 10 rebounds, and Payne chipped in with 11 points to go along with 10 boards.
Saturday, Western Carolina traveled up to Johnson City to tangle with East Tennessee State, looking to avenge an earlier season loss. However, the home team didn’t show much hospitality as they cruised to a 98-47 victory.
The Buccaneers jumped out on the Cats early and took a commanding 32-6 lead in the first eight minutes. The run was topped off by a dunk from Renaldo Johnson, who finished the game with 15 points.
ETSU forced 29 Catamount turnovers, which led to 47 points, whereas Western could only muster six points off turnovers. ETSU also got major contributions from their bench as they chipped in 46 points in the victory.
Freeman led the Cats with 13 points to go along with six boards. Rans Brempong was the only other player to reach double-figures as he chipped in with 10 points.
The Catamounts will return to the hardwood Saturday night as they travel down to the Triad to take on the UNC Greensboro Spartans. They will also do battle with Davidson College on Monday, February 12, before returning home to the Ramsey Center.