CULLOWHEE, N.C. - The Western Carolina men's basketball team picked up its first Southern Conference victory of the season Thursday night with a high-scoring 100-95 victory over the visiting Bulldogs of The Citadel. WCU nearly doubled its seasonal scoring average as four Catamounts picked up career-highs in points while connecting on a season-best 57.9 percent from the field. Sophomore Elijah Pughsley finished with a team-high 28 points in the win as he nailed six 3-pointers and scored 18 first half points.
Pughsley had points in the game where he could not miss and finished 8-of-11 from the field, 6-of-9 from 3-point range and 6-of-9 at the free throw line. He was also able to collect four rebounds and four assists in the contest.
Mutombo finished with a career-best 22 points while hitting 10 of his 15 shots from the field including 10-of-13 from inside the 3-point line. He also led the Catamounts with seven rebounds. Peterson finished with his first career double-double with 20 points and 10 assists. The junior nailed 10-of-11 attempts from the charity stripe which helped seal the Catamount victory.
Rhoades played a career-high 26 minutes which was double his previous high of 13. He was able to score seven points which best his previous career-best by three points and connected on his first ever 3-point attempt. He also corralled six rebounds while collecting an assist, a block and a steal.
WCU improved to 6-13 on the season and 1-5 in SoCon play while the Bulldogs dropped to 9-12 overall and 2-6 in league action.
Overall the Catamounts kept control of the ball, turning it over just 11 times against a tenacious high-paced Bulldog defense. They also shot the ball well in all three phases including a season-high 57.9 percent from the field, 56.3 percent from 3-point range and 75.8 percent at the charity stripe. The 75.8 percent from the free throw line included an incredible 18-of-20 performance in the second half.
WCU trailed by as many as 14 in the first half but 17-straight points from Pughsley to end the half gave WCU a slim 43-42 lead. Pughsley nailed four-straight 3-pointers, then had an old-fashioned 3-point play before ending with a driving layup with 24 seconds left on the clock.
A Rhoades layup to open the second half gave WCU its largest lead to that point in the game at three points. The lead would balloon to six on a jumper by Peterson with 17:35 left but the Bulldogs quickly reeled in the Catamounts tying the game at the 15 minute mark.
WCU would not fall behind until the 10:08 mark as a 3-pointer by Leandro Allende gave The Citadel a slight 66-65 advantage. The Bulldogs would hold the lead until another Pughsley 3-pointer with 7:43 left gave WCU a 73-71 edge. Once again The Citadel would tie and take the lead a few plays later but Rhoades' first career 3-pointer with 5:08 left retook the advantage for WCU at 80-78.
The lead would bounce back and forth before a jumper by Peterson gave the Catamounts the lead for good at the 3:38 mark, 85-84. The lead jumped up to six on a pair of Pughsley free throws with 1:39 left but the Bulldogs would not go away as they cut the advantage to just one with just over a minute to play.
Another Pughsley 3-pointer would blow that lead up to four with 39 ticks left and WCU would sink its free throws down the stretch to preserve a 100-95 victory.
The Citadel was paced by Preston parks who scored 28 points while Zane Najdawi and Allende each chipped in 23. Najdawi led all rebounders with 15 boards in the game including eight offensive caroms.
The Catamounts will now have one day to prepare for the Mercer Bears who come to town Saturday afternoon at 2 pm. The Bears, who fell to UNCG 68-66 Thursday night, are 0-4 against the Catamounts since joining the Southern Conference two seasons ago.