Western Carolina topped Appalachian State in Boone 79-71 Monday night for the first time since January of 1996, the same year the Catamounts earned a berth to the NCAA Tournament. The win also snapped an 11-game losing streak to the Mountaineers and was the first time any current member of the squad has beaten ASU (5-10, 1-4) .
Freshman Kevin Martin led the Cats (9-7, 3-2) scoring 16 of his game-high 22 points in the second half. Additionally, Martin made all six of his free throws, stretching his consecutive free throws hit streak to 38, tied for Clifford Waddy’s school record that has stood since the 1985-86 season.
Western would control the game the entire night, opening with an 11-1 run capped by a 3-point basket from sophomore Emre Atsur over the first five minutes and never relinquishing the lead.
After Appalachian managed to cut the lead to 17-14 on a 13-6 run of their own, the Cats fired back with ten straight points to take a 13-point edge with just over five minutes left in the first half.
Despite two straight ASU buckets in the final minute of the first half to cut the Western advantage to 36-31 at the break, the Catamounts opened the second half with a 12-2 surge to push the lead back to 11 at 44-33.
The Mountaineers would make one final run, closing to within 52-50 with just under eight minutes to play. Western then put away ASU for good, stretching the lead back out to 11 with a 15-6 run. The Cats, third in the conference from the charity stripe, would put away the game by hitting five-of-seven free throws in the final minute.
Head coach Steve Shurina admitted that the streak to the Mountaineers was one this year’s team had to end.
“We obviously needed a win for ourselves, but when you throw on top of that we lost 11 straight to them, it makes it even better,” he said.
Aside from Martin, Preseason All-Southern Conference pick senior Cory Largent scored 11 points and added eight rebounds. Seniors Willie Freeman and Kelvin Wylie added 12 and 11 points respectively. Sophomore Rans Brempong added nine points while patrolling down low with four blocks.
As a team, the Cats made all but three of their 24 free throw attempts. Furthermore, the team stayed on top of the conference in field goal percentage, shooting 50.9 percent from the floor.
Saturday night, the Cats fell short of the Southern Conference’s front-runner in the South Division, The Citadel, 105-97 in double overtime at the Ramsey Center despite a career-high 39 points by Martin.
Western took control of the game early, leading 38-30 at halftime and 50-38 five minutes into the second half. A scoring drought that lasted five minutes, however, trimmed the lead to 50-47.
Gaining control of the game late, the Bulldogs had a chance to seal the victory in overtime when Travis Cantrell hit only one of two free throws to give the Bulldogs a three-point lead with 11 seconds left to play. Martin came to the rescue for Western, hitting a running trey as time expired to knot the score at 79.
The first overtime again required heroics on the part of WCU to extend the game. After Cory Largent missed a go-ahead three-pointer with ten seconds left, senior Casey Rogers put back the rebound to tie the score at 88 and force a second overtime.
The Citadel would outscore Western 17-9 in the final frame to secure the victory.
Martin led the way by hitting 7-of-14 three point shots and 12-of-23 from the field overall. Largent added 23 on 10-of-18 shooting.
Wylie added 14 points and 11 rebounds for the only double-double by a Catamount player. Brempong chipped in eight points and had all five Western blocks.
The Cats will return home this Saturday to take on UNC-Greensboro (10-5, 4-1), defending SoCon tournament champions. With a win, the Cats could pull even with the North Division front-runners.
According to Shurina, however, that will be quite a test for his squad.
“They (UNCG) are very good,” he said. “They’re the best team in the league right now, no doubt about it. I’m not sure if we can beat them at this point, I guess we’ll find out.”