Feb. 4, 2012
Cullowhee, N.C. - Keaton Cole led three Catamounts in double figures with 17 points including five made 3-pointers, but Western Carolina could not find the range in the closing seconds, falling to Georgia Southern, 68-65, in Southern Conference action in the Ramsey Center.
GSU's Willie Powers gave the Eagles the lead for good with a lay-up in the lane with 1:40 remaining in the game. Trailing by one, 66-65, WCU had three shots at a go-ahead field goal inside the final 75 seconds, but could not find the bottom of the basket. GSU's Eric Ferguson cleaned the glass after the third Catamount attempt and Jelani Hewitt sank both ends of a 1-and-1 with nine seconds to play for a three-point Eagle lead.
WCU then maneuvered through a pair of strategic fouls by the Eagles, even trying to get fouled in the act of shooting to draw free throws. However, in the end, WCU got the ball to Preston Ross who had a 3-point attempt from the right corner just rim out as the final buzzer sounded.
"It was really a competitive ball game. Both teams really, really played hard and got after each other," said WCU head coach Larry Hunter following the game. "Offenses did good things at both ends of the court - it was just a grind-it-out type of ball game."
Cole continued his hot shooting with five made shots from long range as the Catamounts canned nine 3-pointers against the Eagles. He now has 165 career made 3-pointers, moving past Robert Gaines (1990-93) into sixth on WCU's career 3-point shooting chart. The Toronto, Ontario, native added three steals as WCU swiped 13 on the afternoon.
Harouna Mutombo finished with 16 points, a team-high six rebounds and three steals with Trey Sumler scoring a dozen points while dishing out four assists. Mutombo advanced into a tie for fourth on the school's career theft chart with Casey Rogers (1999-2002), both with 170 steals in their four-year careers.
Coming off nearly a full week between games, Georgia Southern (10-12, 8-4 SoCon) pulled out to a nine-point first half lead on the strength of a 10-to-2 run midway through the opening 20 minutes. The Catamounts were able to answer, though, with consecutive 3-pointers by Keaton Cole sandwiched around a triple by Hewitt, with Mutombo closing the gap to one, 23-22, by finishing off a steal with an uncontested lay-up.
Cole's third 3-pointer of the first half tied the game at 27 with five minutes before intermission with his fifth triple again closing the gap to one, 31-30, inside the final 90 seconds. Marvin Baynham scored two of his seven points to give the Eagles a three-point, 33-30, edge at halftime.
Through the first five minutes of the second half, neither team was able to get breathing room from the other. Cole buried a trey out of the starting block to tie the game and the two squads would trade buckets until the sixth tie of the afternoon at 43 apiece with 15:35 to play.
After nearly a two and a half minutes scoring ceasefire, Sumler ignited a 9-to-3 spurt for the Catamounts that ended with WCU on top by six, 52-46. However, Georgia Southern scored the next seven-consecutive points to go in front 53-52, and neither team led by more than three the rest of the way.
All told, Saturday afternoon's game was tied six times and saw 17 lead changes including 11 over the final 10 minutes of regulation.
"We thought we were in pretty good position (with that 52-46 lead)," Hunter added. "They came in and scored a dunk, lay-up and another basket - scored on three-straight possessions, and we had four ugly possessions where we didn't get a look. We've done that before, and it kinda crept in again. Then it became a see-saw battle."
For the Eagles, Hewitt finished with a game-high 18 points while Ben Drayton finished with 14 and Ferguson scored 13 points in the second half alone, adding eight boards. Powers scored nine with seven assists for GSU. The Eagles managed 57-percent shooting for the game while WCU shot 46-percent despite a pressing defense most of the day by GSU.
Western Carolina is on the road for its next two games in league play. The Catamounts visit the College of Charleston on Thursday, Feb. 9, in a game that will be broadcast on ESPN3 with an 8:00 pm tip-off. Then, WCU visits Furman on Saturday, Feb. 11 at 2:00 pm.