Western Carolina split a pair of Southern Conference games over the weekend, topping Davidson 70-67 in overtime Saturday in Davidson while Appalachian State defeated Western 66-62 Monday night at the Ramsey Center.
Senior forward Willie Freeman scored a game-high 23 points and grabbed a career-high 15 rebounds against the Mountaineers (8-12, 3-6), but the Catamounts managed to shoot only 36 percent from the floor that included a two-of-22 performance from the three-point line.
The teams traded baskets back and forth in a first half that featured three ties and six lead changes, with no team gaining more than a six-point edge. Western (11-9, 5-4) outrebounded ASU 25-19 in the first half and, on the strength of Freeman’s 16 first half points, retired to the locker room holding a slim 30-29 lead.
The tide would turn quickly as the second half began, however, as the Mountaineers opened the second half with a 10-2 run over the first four minutes to open up a 39-32 lead.
After ASU would stretch the lead to as many as eight, sophomore center Rans Brempong hit a hook shot from the baseline to pull the Cats to within three at 52-49 with under nine minutes to play.
Senior forward Cory Largent would then hit two free throws to cap an 8-0 run and tie the game at 57 with 2:46 to play. Largent accounted for six of the eight points in that stretch and assisted on the other basket.
From that point, however, Appalachian State would hit seven of their last eight free throws to ice the game.
Freeman led all players in both scoring and rebounding while hitting 10-of-15 from the field. Largent scored all 15 of his points in the second half while Brempong pulled down a career-high 14 rebounds.
WCU freshman guard Kevin Martin, the team’s leading scorer and second-ranked scorer in the conference, was held to just seven points after getting into foul trouble in the first half.
As a team, the Catamounts outrebounded ASU 50-37 and held them to only 36 percent shooting from the field. However, the Mountaineers were 25-of-33 from the free throw line while Western was just 8-of-14.
The loss evened the season series with the two schools, as Western won in Boone two weeks earlier 79-71.
Head coach Steve Shurina, while not pleased with the offensive effort, felt his team showed a lot in the loss to Appalachian.
“We had a lot of trouble shooting the ball,” he said. I think at one point we were 1-of-20 from three and I’m not sure that’s going to win many games.”
“The fact that we were still in the game though is a testament to our great defense and rebounding,” he said. “I tell my guys, you guard and rebound and you’ll be in every game, and that’s what happened.”
Saturday night, Western went to overtime to take out the SoCon North Division’s leading squad, Davidson, 70-67.
The Wildcats (13-6, 6-2) had beaten Western back on January 5th in the Ramsey Center 74-71 in another battle to the end.
Davidson used the home court advantage to jump out to a 14-point lead at 25-11 with just over nine minutes left in the first half. The Catamounts battled back and ended the half with a 20-9 run thanks to Largent’s 15 first-half points to cut the lead to 34-31 at the half.
WCU took their first lead of the game with 13:33 left to play when Martin hit a jump shot to make the score 42-41. Davidson refused to give in, however, and Peter Anderer hit a free throw with 3:28 left to play to give the Wildcats a 58-52 lead.
Senior point guard Casey Rogers then hit two straight three-pointers in the next minute to tie the game at 58.
Davidson’s Wayne Bernard seemed to ice the game with 11 seconds left when Wayne Bernard hit two free throws to give the Wildcats a 63-60 lead. Martin then tied the game with a three-pointer with only four seconds left to force the overtime period.
Martin hit another trey in overtime and made all four of his free throws to score all seven overtime points by the Cats and give them the 70-67 victory.
“Kevin (Martin) really struggled tonight,” said Shurina. “But he showed why he is a great player by making the plays for us down the stretch when we needed it.”
Largent led all scorers with 19 points to go with seven rebounds. Martin’s clutch play down the stretch after starting very slowly gave him 18 points while he grabbed eight rebounds.
Rogers ended the game with 17 points after shooting 5-of-6 from three-point range. Senior transfer Kelvin Wylie added 12 points as the fourth man in double figures.
Western managed to shoot only 38 percent from the field, but outrebounded the Wildcats 45-30. WCU also hit 16-of-25 free throws while Davidson only managed 7-of-11 form the charity stripe.
Shurina again admitted his squad did not play their best game but was encouraged by the win nonetheless.
“I still don’t know how we won the game,” he said. “This is the first time we did not have our good stuff and still won. We just gutted it out for the win.”
Western will travel to Fleming Gym this Saturday to take on UNC Greensboro (13-7, 6-3). A win over the Spartans will give the Cats a season-sweep of the defending conference champions and will also place them second in the conference’s tough North Division. Such a feat, while difficult, is very possible for the squad according to Shurina.
“They’re very tough but we’re 3-1 on the road in the conference so far,” he said. “We seem to play a lot better on the road and that dates back to when we beat Florida State and Kansas State.”
“We’re going to have to shoot it a lot better than we did against App State,” he said, “but with a win, we’re right back in the thick of things.”