March 4, 2012
Asheville, N.C. - Four Catamounts scored in double figures led by seniors Keaton Cole and Harouna Mutombo with 17 points apiece as Western Carolina advanced to the 2012 Southern Conference Championship game by holding off the North's top seed, UNC Greensboro, 82-77, Sunday evening in semifinal action at the U.S. Cellular Center.
Western Carolina (17-17) claimed its first finals berth since 1996 when it defeated Davidson 69-60 to advance to the Big Dance. The Catamounts enter the championship game riding a season-long, seven-game winning streak including three-straight victories in the conference tournament. WCU will take on the winner of the Davidson-Elon game in Monday's title game at 9:00 pm, live on ESPN2.
Cole and Mutombo were joined in double figures by redshirt sophomore Trey Sumler with 16, who added eight rebounds and five assists in the win, while classmate Preston Ross came off the bench to chip in 10 points and seven boards.
UNCG's Trevis Simpson tallied a game-high 24 points leading a quartet of Spartans in double digits. Derrell Armstrong added 14 points, seven rebounds and four assists, while Drew Parker and David Williams scored 11 and 10 points, respectively.
After starting out red-hot from the floor with a 9-0 run to open the game, Western Carolina settled in as the Spartans darted back to tie the game at 14 apiece midway through the opening half. Enduring three ties and eight lead changes in the first 20 minutes, the Catamounts took the lead what proved to be for good on a runner in the lane by Sumler with 5:30 remaining before the break.
WCU stretched its advantage to nine in the first and led by five, 42-37, at halftime.
Western Carolina went up 12 three different times in the second half the last coming with 7:54 to go on Ross' tip-in of a Mutombo miss. However, the Spartans had an answer each time.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by Parker sliced the lead to six before Armstrong made it a four-point game, 69-65, on a jumper with 5:29 left. After a Sumler jumper on the Catamount end, Simpson again made it a four-point deficit at 4:43 with a slicing lay-up.
WCU again retook momentum scoring five-straight points capped by a trey by Cole trey from the right corner at 2:15 for a 76-69 lead forcing a UNCG timeout. The Spartans did not wilt.
Simpson hit four free throws on consecutive possessions to cut the margin back to five. Armstrong's circus-shot layup with 1:09 remaining making it a three-point ballgame, 76-73.
The Catamounts would not be denied, though, hitting all six free throw attempts (Mutombo, Cole and Sumler) in the final 36 seconds to cement the five-point victory and punching their ticket into Monday night's title game.