March 2, 2013
Cullowhee, N.C. - Freshman Mike Brown hit a game-winning, buzzer-beating jumper from the left elbow as time expired in overtime on Saturday afternoon lifting Western Carolina to a 56-54 Southern Conference victory over Samford in the regular-season finale for both squads.
With the win, WCU (13-18, 9-9 SoCon) secured the sixth seed in next week's SoCon Men's Basketball Championship. The Catamounts will play the No. 11 seed The Citadel (8-21, 5-13 SoCon) at approximately 8:30 pm on Friday night at the U.S. Cellular Center in Asheville.
Inbounding the ball from the left sideline with 3.4 seconds remaining in the first overtime, James Sinclair found Brown near the left wing. The Charlotte, N.C., native then worked to his right before raising up for a contested 14-foot jumper that floated to the rim, careening first off the inside of the cylinder on the right hand side. The ball kissed the glass before bouncing on the back iron as the backboard lights lit and horn sounded.
While the 1,807 in the Ramsey Center held their collective breath, the ball settled and fell through the twine giving WCU the last-second victory. Brown was mobbed by his teammates in a celebratory dog pile on the opposite end of the floor.
"Coach called up the play and I was surprised because I really didn't think it would be for me. But, he called it for me. He told me to catch the ball and attack. I couldn't attack so I just jabbed (Raijon Kelly) and pulled up. I didn't really see it go in, but I'm glad it did," recalled Brown on his game-winning shot.
During post-game comments, Hunter indicated that the final play was designed to get the ball into Brown's hands because of his ability to get to the basket.
"We wanted throw it in to (Brown) in the middle of the floor. I just felt he had the strength and ability to take it to the hole with contact and get it in, and fortunately he did. It was just a great play," said Hunter. "I'm just really happy with the win. It was a hard fought ball game by both teams. I thought Samford competed very well as we knew that they would. I'm just really proud of our guys."
Juniors Tawaski King and Brandon Boggs led the Catamounts with 12 points apiece while sophomore James Sinclair scored 10 points and pulled down a team-high eight rebounds in the victory. Preston Ross chipped in nine points and six rebounds including two on the offensive end for WCU.
Neither team was able to get away from the other as both sides could only manage a four-point lead through the three periods in a game that was tied 16 times and witnessed 12 lead changes. The Bulldogs managed to slip ahead by four, 26-22, inside the final 94 seconds of the first half and carried a one-point, 26-25, lead into the halftime break.
In the opening moments of the second half, Ross converted an old-fashioned three-point play to knot the game for a 10th time. At the 7:28 mark of the second half, Sinclair buried a 3-pointer from the left corner to give the Catamounts their largest lead at four, 49-45.
Kelly sank a jumper tied the game at 50 with 4:09 remaining in regulation and neither team was able to score the rest of the way. Samford's Connor Miller missed a lay-up with Boggs grabbing the defensive board with 10 seconds to play.
Before cashing in on his chance at the end of overtime, Brown had a last-second shot at the end of regulation that could have won it for WCU. Coming off a defensive stop, Sinclair had the first of two looks in the closing seconds with a jumper that bounced off the back of the rim. Brown tore down the rebound and went back up with a runner from the left side that fell short resulting in OT.
In the extra session, both sides traded buckets before Brown's heroics won it at the buzzer.
Samford (11-20, 9-9 SoCon) had three players finish with 13 points apiece, led by the double-double effort of freshman Tim Williams, adding a game-high 13 rebounds. Kelly and Tyler Hood also finished with 13 points for the Bulldogs.
WCU converted 14 Samford turnovers into 20 points while also tallying 20 points from its bench including the 12 by Boggs.
Western Carolina turns its attention to the 2013 SoCon Men's Basketball Championship next Friday through Monday, March 11 in Asheville.
Western Carolina vs. Samford - Post-Game Notes:
- Western Carolina closed the regular season with a home victory over Samford in overtime ... It was Samford's second-straight loss in an extra session after falling at Appalachian State, 70-67, in double-OT on Thursday night ... WCU finished with a 7-6 record inside the friendly confines of the Ramsey Center this season;
- WCU split the regular season meetings with the Bulldogs with both teams winning on their respective home courts ... the Catamounts remained unbeaten all-time against Samford in Cullowhee with its sixth-straight victory in games in Cullowhee;
- With the victory, Western Carolina claimed the sixth-seed in next week's Southern Conference Men's Basketball Championship ... the Catamounts will face the No. 11 seed The Citadel (8-21, 5-13 SoCon) in the final game of the tournament's opening day at approximately 8:30 pm on Friday, March 8 ... WCU took the only seasonal meeting with the Bulldogs in Charleston, 72-55, back on Jan. 5;
- Appalachian State's 86-60 victory over Chattanooga in Boone led the Mountaineers to the fourth-seed and the final first-round bye ... Samford finished tied with WCU in the standings at 9-9 but owned the tie-breaker based on their victory over third-seed, College of Charleston ... UTC finished with the seventh seed;
- Tom Tankelewicz made one 3-pointer to give him 77 on the season, moving into a tie for fifth in WCU's single-season record book with Terry Boyd (1991-92);
- Freshman guard Rhett Harrelson made his first collegiate start on Saturday afternoon, playing a career-long 42 minutes and dishing out three assists with two steals ... Classmate Mike Brown hit the game-winning bucket for WCU;
- WCU redshirt junior Trey Sumler did not play on Saturday afternoon due to a coaches' decision ... It was the first game during Sumler's career that he did not play ... the Rocky Mount, N.C., native has played in 98 of a possible 99 games over the past three seasons;
- Prior to tip-off, the basketball team honored its two senior managers - Austin Davis and Matt Pino - in a special pre-game ceremony ... the senior WCU cheerleaders and seniors on the WCU Dance Team were honored during a first half timeout.