Feb. 24, 2012
Cullowhee, N.C. - Keaton Cole scored a career-high 28 points, hitting nine of Western Carolina's 17 3-pointers to lead four Catamounts in double figures on Thursday night. But it wasn't until Trey Sumler and Harouna Mutombo combined for six free throws inside the final 25 seconds that the Catamounts could celebrate a two-point, 79-77, victory over Samford in Southern Conference action in the Ramsey Center.
The Catamounts led by as many as 14 points in the second half, but Samford methodically chipped away at WCU's advantage, tying the game at 73 on a back-door cut and lay-up by Jeffrey Merritt with 1:27 remaining in the game. Sumler and Mutombo then combined to hit all six free throws inside the final 25 seconds to hold off the Bulldogs.
With the win, WCU captured its third-straight game and swept the regular season series with the Bulldogs for the second time in the past three years. The Catamounts also kept their chances of a second-place finish in the division - and the first-round tournament bye that accompanies it - alive entering Saturday's regular season finale.
Cole's career night including the nine 3-pointers propelled him to the school single-season record, currently with 100 treys on the season. A native of Toronto, Ontario, Cole by-passed former Catamount standout - and current assistant coach - Anquell McCollum's benchmark of 99 made during the 1995-96 season. Collectively, the squad's 17 made 3-pointers matched a school record which was set during the 2009-10 season.
Cole was joined in double figures by Mutombo with 19 points while sophomore Brandon Boggs chipped in 14 points with four made 3-pointers. Sumler nearly posted a triple-double, finishing with a double-double of 12 points and 10 assists, adding a team-high eight rebounds.
Western Carolina (13-17, 7-10 SoCon) trailed for just 22 seconds on the night as Boggs knocked down a 3-pointer at the 18:33 mark of the first half to erase a two-point deficit and foreshadowed events on the record-setting night. The Catamounts led by six at the break, 41-35, with a combined 12 of Western Carolina's 13 first half field goals coming from beyond the 3-point arc, shooting 52-percent from long-range in the opening 20 minutes.
In the second half, WCU took its first 14 point lead at 51-37 just four minutes into the frame on an 8-to-0 spurt which included treys by Mutombo and Cole and was capped by an offensive rebound and put-back by Tawaski King. The lead was again pushed to 14 at 60-46 with 12:33 to play following a stick-back by Preston Ross.
Samford (11-17, 8-9 SoCon) used a 10-0 run over a three-minute stretch to claw back within three, 65-62, and eventually knotted the game for the first-time at 73 on Merritt's back-door cut and lay-up with 1:27 remaining on the game clock.
Following a WCU turnover, Merritt misfired on the ensuing possession with Sumler pulling down the defensive board and drawing a foul with 25 seconds remaining. The Rocky Mount, N.C., native stepped to the line and made both charity tosses to stretch the Catamount advantage to two. On Samford's next possession, Merritt again came-up short on a lay-up with Mutombo corralling the loose ball where he was fouled, making both free throws.
With the Catamounts leading by four, 77-73, post Drew Windler buried his fourth 3-pointer of the game to close the margin back to one, 77-76, with seven seconds remaining. Sumler collected the inbounds pass on the next possession where was fouled, making both free throws to push the lead back to three.
Looking to prevent a 3-point shot attempt, Mutombo fouled Raijon Kelly near mid-court as he raced up the floor. He made the front-end of the two shots, then deliberately missed the second shot, but Sumler grabbed the rebound to deny Samford another shot or tip attempt.
Windler paced the Bulldogs with a career-high 27 points with Tyler Hood and Kelly both netting 13 points apiece in the losing effort. Will Cook just missed a double-double with nine points and nine rebounds while also dishing out three assists.
WCU out-rebounded the Bulldogs, 38-to-32, with Samford holding a 28-to-12 edge in points scored in the paint.
Western Carolina concludes its regular season on Saturday afternoon in the front-end of a Catamount hoops double-header in the Ramsey Center. WCU hosts arch-rival Appalachian State in a crucial SoCon North Division match-up with tip-off set for 2:00 pm. Seniors Keaton Cole, Harouna Mutombo and Sam Smithson, playing their final home game, will be honored in a special pre-game ceremony.
- Western Carolina won its sixth-straight home game over Samford on Thursday night, remaining perfect against the Bulldogs in Cullowhee ... WCU also completed its second regular season sweep of the North Division foe with its third-consecutive win in the series overall;
- With the victory, the Catamounts also matched a season-long, three-game winning streak;
- WCU has had 11 games decided by five-points or less this season including five wins by four-points or fewer and six losses by five or less;
- Western Carolina matched a school-record with 17 made 3-pointers in the win over Samford ... WCU made 17 3's twice during in the 2009-10 season, doing so against Duquesne (11/25/09) and Berea College (1/5/10);
- Western Carolina kept its hopes of a second-place SoCon North Division finish - and a first-round bye in next month's conference tournament - alive on Thursday night with its home win over Samford ... WCU must now down arch-rival Appalachian State and get help from UNCG and Chattanooga to force a three-way tie ... the Spartans - who earned the SoCon North Division's top seed on Thursday by virtue of Elon's road loss at Davidson - travel to UNCG with the UTC hosting Samford ... Both games are Saturday night with WCU hosting ASU in its regular season finale at 2 pm;
- Keaton Cole became Western Carolina's single-season record holder for 3-pointers made in a season, finishing with a career-high nine 3-pointers in the win over Samford to give him 100-and-counting on the year ... Cole eclipsed the previous record of 99 made 3-pointers accomplished by former WCU standout- and current assistant coach - Anquell McCollum which he set in 1995-96, the same season he earned Southern Conference Player of the Year plaudits;
- Redshirt senior Harouna Mutombo scored 19 points against Samford to give him 1,487 career points, advancing two spots in the school record book to 12th all-time ... Mutombo by-passed Darrell Murray (1,472 points from 1961-64) and Quinton Lytle (1,474 career points from 1981-85) and stands just eight points shy of 11th-place Frankie King (1994-95) and 22 shy of the all-time top 10 in program history (Danny Tharpe, 1961-64 - 1,509 points).