CULLOWHEE, N.C. - The Western Carolina men's basketball team found its offensive rhythm in the second half Monday night against the Bulldogs of Samford University but WCU was unable to hold its lead down the stretch. Samford led the entire first half and most of the second but a 16-2 run by the Catamounts midway through the second half gave WCU its first lead of the game. The Bulldogs would respond with 14-2 run of their own to claim the 70-65 victory late in the period.
WCU placed four scorers in double-figures led by a duo from Ohio. Freshman Onno Steger sank five 3-pointers for the Catamounts including three in the second half to lead the squad with 15 points while sophomore Elijah Pughsley came off the bench to sink four 3-pointers in the second half as well to finish second in scoring with 12 points. The duo combined to go 9-of-12 from long range in the game including 7-of-8 in the second stanza.
Sophomore forward Marc Gosselin finished with 12 points as well. He also chipped in three assists, a block and a steal. The final double-digit scorer was junior Devin Peterson who had 10 points and a team-high five assists in the loss.
Samford had three scorers reach double-figures led by Demetrius Denzel-Dyson who had 15 points. Wyatt Walker finished with a double-double, 11 points and 12 rebounds, while Alex Thompson chipped in 10 points.
The Bulldogs were awarded 37 trips to the charity stripe as WCU was called for 29 fouls. The Catamounts on the other hand had just nine free throw attempts and the Bulldogs were called for just 15 fouls.
The Catamounts controlled the boards collecting 38 rebounds including 13 on the offensive end while limiting the Bulldogs to just 29 caroms.
The loss drops WCU to 0-2 in conference play and 5-10 overall while the Bulldogs of Samford spring into the early conference lead with a perfect 2-0 record and 11-4 overall mark.
Samford led nearly the entire 20 minutes of the opening half but WCU kept it close for most of the period. The Bulldogs largest lead of the half came with 1:07 left on the clock as a free throw gave Samford a 33-23 lead. WCU hit a jumper with just over 30 seconds left in the half to cut the halftime deficit to 33-25.
A quick 5-0 run to open the second half by WCU cut the lead to just three as Gosselin hit a jumper on WCU;s opening possession followed by a Steger three. Another Steger three a few minutes later cut the lead to just two at 37-35. Steger would continue to keep the Catamounts close as his third three of the half at 15:35 once again cut the lead to two. The Bulldogs responded to the third dagger with a 10-2 run to open up a 10-point advantage with 12:47 left in the contest.
Trailing by 10 with 11:22 left in the game, WCU subbed in Pughsley for the first time in the game. Just under a minute later he assisted junior Haboubacar Mutombo on a 3-pointer that sparked a 14-2 run by the Catamounts. Nine of WCU's 14 points in the run came from Pughsley as he hit three-straight 3-pointers. Following Mutombo's three, Gosselin hit a jumper off an assist from Peterson to cut the lead to five.
The first of Pughsley's three 3-pointers came on WCU's next possession which cut the deficit to two. After a number of empty possessions, Pughsley hit his second 3-pointer to give WCU its first lead of the game, 53-52, with 7:23 left in the game. Another Pughsley three 30 seconds later increased the lead to four. Gosselin followed with a jumper before a pair of free throws ended the unanswered run by the Catamounts. Pughsley's fourth 3-pointer came on WCU's next possession to WCU its largest lead of the game, 61-54.
The Bulldogs then responded with a 14-2 run of its own to claim a 68-63 with 18 ticks left on the clock. WCU cut it to three with 10 seconds left but the Bulldogs hung on and hot their free throws to claim the 70-65 victory.
WCU will now turn its attention to UNCG who the Catamounts visit on Saturday, Jan. 7. WCU will take on the Spartans at 5 pm inside the Greensboro Coliseum.