Catamount Men’s basketball team finishes regular season in slump

Already on a three-game losing streak, the Western Carolina men’s basketball team didn’t do much in the final week of the regular season to reverse their luck. The Catamounts lost both of their games during the week to extend the losing streak to five and zap any ounce of momentum the Cats might have had going into the SoCon Tournament. The week started off with the final home game of the season against hated-rival Appalachian State. The Mountaineers (22-6, 13-3) are among the best teams in the SoCon and are being talked about as a possible bracket buster in the NCAA tournament. They didn’t look all that impressive against a young Catamount team on Monday, February 19. The Catamounts started off battling the Mountaineers back and forth much to delight of the 3,237 in attendance. A jump shot by freshman Brandon Giles gave Western a 6-4 lead three and a half minutes into the game. The lead would be the last of the game for the Catamounts. A 25-11 run by the Mountaineers over the last 13 minutes of the half decimated the Cats and the crowd. The Mountaineers would lead by 15, 39-24, at halftime. The Catamounts played horrible defense in the first half and allowed App State to shoot 68% from the field and 67% from long-distance. The Mountaineers also benefited from some questionable calls as they shot 11 first half free throws compared to 4 by the Catamounts. The Catamounts battled back in the second half. The Mountaineers would extend their lead to 41-24 with 17:45 left, but the Cats went on a 22-10 run to cut the lead to 51-46 with eight and a half minutes remaining in the game. The Mountaineers would close out the Cats after a quick timeout to regroup. Two 3-pointers and two lay-ups would quickly re-extend the Mountaineer lead. The Cats could not get any closer than five points and would lose by a score of 76-65. Appalachian State was led by the three-headed monster of Demetrius Scott, D.J. Thompson and Nathan Cranford. Scott finished the night with 13 points, while Cranford poured in 16 points and pulled down 5 rebounds. The Mountaineers’ senior leader, Thompson, finished with only 10 points but dished out 5 assists. Western received an outstanding performance from freshman big man Nick Aldridge. Aldridge scored 29 points, pulled down 14 rebounds, and had 6 steals. Aldridge scored both inside and out as he shot 11 of 24 from the field including 2 for 2 from three-point range. The effort was not enough as only two other Catamounts would join Aldridge in double figures. The freshman Giles finished with 13 points, while junior Eric Wilson came off the bench to chip in 11 points. Western would try and reverse their fortunes on February 22 at Elon, but they would not have much luck. Elon was having a poor season (8-21, 6-12), but they beat Western handily earlier in the year. This time would go about the same as earlier in the year. The Catamounts started off the game strong, though. Giles led the way as he scored 9 of the Catamounts’ first 15 points and helped the Cats establish an early 19-11 lead. The Cats would go cold from the field, as they missed their next six shots, and lose the lead. A 19-5 Phoenix run would give Elon a 30-24 lead with three and a half minutes left in the half. The Cats fought back and cut the lead to one, 36-35, going into halftime. The Cats were able to lead twice in the second half before losing. The last Catamount lead came at the 15 minute mark as a pair of Arnold Gore free throws put the Cats up by one. Elon kept scoring, though, as the Cats did not. Elon took an 11-point lead at 59-48, but the Cats would fight back once again. This time, Western used the three-pointer to cut the lead. The Cats hit three 3-pointers and were able to cut the lead to four points at 61-57. Elon would finish the game by outscoring the Cats 13-8 to win 74-65. The Phoenix had a good all-around performance and placed five players in double figures. Brett James led the way with 16 points and 7 assists. Fellow starters LeVonn Jordan, Chris Chalko and Scott Grable also reached double figures. Jordan had 13 points and 5 rebounds, while Chalko finished with 10 points and 7 rebounds. Grable scored 11 points. Ola Atoyebi was the final Elon player in double figures as he scored 11 points off the bench and pulled down 8 rebounds. The Catamounts struggled mightily shooting from the field. The Cats shot 38.5% from the field, 24% from long range and only 69.2% from the free throw line. Freshman Nick Aldridge led the way with 15 points and 11 rebounds, but only shot 40% from the field as he hit 6 of 15. Negus McKenna put up 14 points off the bench as he shot a stellar 71% from the field and 75% from long range. Eric Wilson also scored in double figures with 10 points. Giles, who opened the game with 9 of the Cats first 15 points, finished with 9 points as he shot 40% from the field and 25% from three-point range. The Cats finished the year with a record of 10-19 and 7-11 in conference. The record represents a regression from Coach Larry Hunter’s first season in which the Cats finished with a record of 13-17 overall and 7-7 in the conference. While the record shows regression, the Cats actually showed improvement throughout the year. The squad featured only one senior, Kyle Greathouse, but had four freshmen. The young squad struggled mightily at times but played outstanding at other times. The team should be much improved next year. The Cats should head into the SoCon tournament as a six or seven seed, but a run to the NCAA tournament would seem very improbable.