CULLOWHEE, N.C. - In a game that saw neither team take more than a five-point lead, the Western Carolina men's basketball team outlasted the Mercer University Bears Wednesday night inside the Ramsey Center, 58-56. Junior Mike Amius continued his strong play of late and finished with a game-high 21 points, seven rebounds, two assists, a steal and a block. The junior was 8-of-11 from the field in the contest and 5-of-7 at the free throw line.
Mercer entered the game with one of the top-scoring offenses in the Southern Conference led by senior Ria'n Holland who ranks third in the NCAA in 3-point field goal percentage (53.4%) and second in the SoCon in points per game (20.2). Holland went 0-of-7 from 3-point range against the Catamounts and was held to half his seasonal average with 10 points. The Catamounts used several different defenders against Holland throughout the game and were able to disrupt many of his shots.
The Mercer defense was just as good as the Catamounts as the Bears held WCU to 39.6 percent shooting from the floor and 33.3 percent from long range. WCU committed 19 turnovers which led to 24 Mercer points.
WCU's presence inside kept the Catamounts in the game. Amius was helped by junior Marc Gosselin who had a double-double in the contest. The Lyon, France native ripped down 11 rebounds to go along with 11 points. Gosselin knocked down a huge three with 56 seconds left in the game off an assist from Amius to put him into double-figures. He also had two big defensive rebounds in the final minute of play to help the Catamounts hang onto the lead.
Senior Devin Peterson came off the bench to add 12 points to the offensive effort while grabbing three rebounds. Freshman Matt Halvorsen struggled to find his range inside the home arena but was able to finish with eight points and a trio of rebounds.
The Catamounts dominated on the boards early in the contest and held that advantage until the final buzzer as WCU out-rebounded the Bears 41-33.
The victory gives WCU a 3-1 mark in Southern Conference play and improves its overall record to 7-9. The Bears dropped to 7-9 as well and fell to 0-3 in league action for the first time since joining the SoCon three seasons ago.
Stephon Jelks led Mercer with 16 points while Demetre Rivers added 11. Desmond Ringer nearly had a double-double with seven points and 10 rebounds.
The Catamounts held the early advantage after opening the game with a 4-0 run. Mercer responded with a 9-0 run of their own to take a five point edge with 15:14 left in the first. As the runs continued, WCU answered with an 8-0 run of its own as Peterson scored four points and Gosselin and Amius each had two. The game would settle down at that point with both teams trading baskets for the next several possessions. Another run late in the period opened up a 25-20 lead for the Bears with just 2:25 remaining before the halftime break. WCU would claw its way back and a 3-pointer by Halvorsen with three seconds remaining tied the game at 28 as the teams headed to their locker rooms.
The game remained a one-possession contest for the opening 19 minutes of the second half before a 3-pointer by Gosselin off a feed from Amius gave WCU a four-point edge with 56 seconds left. The Bears tried to answer with a three of their own but it was off the mark. After a turnover by the Catamounts, Mercer was finally able to answer as Jelks took advantage of an offensive rebound and buried a triple to cut the deficit to just one with 29 seconds left.
Mercer fouled on the next WCU possession but the Catamounts were unable to convert either of the two free throws so the Bears had the ball down one with 28 seconds left. At the 18 second mark, Holland missed a jumper and Amius was able to corral the tough rebound. He was fouled and headed to the free throw line where he knocked down both to open up a three-point advantage.
Mercer tried to tie the game with a 3-pointer from Rivers but the ball rimmed out and found the hands of Holland who missed the putback. Gosselin was able to find the loose ball and was immediately fouled. The junior hit one of two free throws to reopen a four-point edge with just five seconds left. The Bears finally converted from long range on their next possession which cut the lead to just one with 0.9 ticks left on the clock.
WCU inbounded the ball to Johnson who was immediately fouled with 0.3 seconds left. Johnson nailed the first free throw attempt and then missed the second on purpose to allow the clock to run out and preserve a 58-56 victory.
The Catamounts will now face one of the top teams in the league as UNCG comes to town Saturday night for a 7:30 pm contest. The game is part of a doubleheader with the WCU women's team who takes on Wofford at 5 pm inside the Ramsey Center.