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Gordon, Early Second Half Runs Powers Catamounts Past Samford; Sets Up North Division Showdown on Saturday

Feb. 26, 2009

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Cullowhee, N.C. - Sophomore Richie Gordon led Western Carolina with a career-high 23 points and just missed a double-double with a career-best nine rebounds. But it was a 15-to-2 run to open the second half, and just enough free throws down the stretch that were the differences as the Catamounts kept North Division title hopes alive with a 65-58 home win over Samford Thursday night in the Ramsey Center.

Western's win, coupled with Appalachian State's (9-10) 88-82 home win over Chattanooga, sets up a first-place showdown this Saturday in Cullowhee. UTC (11-8) has already sewn up the top seed from the division, but the Catamounts can claim a share of the North Division title with a win over the Mocs. ASU hosts Samford (8-11) in the finale in Boone.

Saturday is the Catamount Stimulus Package with free admission for all fans for both the women's game at 4:00 pm and the men's divisional tilt at 7:00 pm.

Western Carolina (15-14, 10-9 SoCon) outscored the Bulldogs 11-to-0 in the opening five minutes of the second half as a part of the 15-to-2 burst which erased the four-point halftime deficit and handed the Catamounts a nine-point edge, 48-39. However, Samford responded with a spurt of its own, posting 18 points against Western's seven during a 10-minute stretch to take the lead by two, 57-55.

On the ensuing possession, junior Brandon Giles canned a 3-pointer from the left wing as the shot clock expired to push the Catamounts back in front for good, 58-57. WCU connected on three of its final seven free throw attempts and forced four empty possessions by the Bulldogs inside the final minute to seal the win.

"It was huge," Hunter said during opening comments with the media when talking about Thursday night's win. "We had to take care of our part and hope we got some help, and we did from Appalachian State. But the big thing was we needed to take care of ourselves. We knew we had a really tough opponent in Samford. They played really well against us earlier (this year), and you saw they played well here, too, especially in the first half."

Gordon made nine of his 13 field goal attempts in the game as Western finished an even 50-percent from the floor, 23-of-46. The Atlanta, Ga., native also boarded nine misses, including six on the offensive end, for a career-night all around.

Junior Adrian Gailliard added his SoCon-best 10 points with six boards, while junior Brigham Waginger chipped in 10 points and five steals in the win. SoCon Freshman of the Year candidate, Harouna Mutombo, was held to nine points on just 3-of-6 shooting, adding four steals and a pair of assists while countryman Keaton Cole scored seven and dished out a career-best five assists.

Samford's Josh Bedwell hit 7-of-12 from the floor, including 5-of-8 from beyond the 3-point arc for a game-high 24 points. Josh Davis drained four treys - all in the first half - for 16 points with Trey Montgomery adding a dozen points and three steals for the Bulldogs in the losing effort.

The Bulldogs shot a sizzling 70-percent from the floor in the first half - including 9-of-12 from long range for 75-percent. Despite the near pin-point accuracy from beyond the arc, Samford only managed a four-point edge in the first half as WCU countered with 18 points in the paint and 15 points off of turnovers.

After intermission, Western Carolina's defense held Samford to five field goals in the second half on 5-of-20 shooting (25-percent). All told, 12 of the Bulldogs' 19 field goals were 3-pointers with the Catamounts forcing 22 turnovers with 14 steals.