March 6, 2012
Asheville, N.C. - Rallying behind a raucous purple-clad crowd that gathered at the U.S. Cellular Center on Monday night, Western Carolina erased a 13-point deficit to top-seed Davidson over the final 2:47 of regulation to tie the game at 78 on three clutch free throws by senior Keaton Cole to force overtime.
Trailing by two at the end of overtime, senior Harouna Mutombo made two free throws with 26 seconds remaining with the WCU defense tightening on a last-second jumper by Davidson's De'Mon Brooks to force a second overtime.
In the second extra session, Davidson's Clint Mann converted a drive to the bucket with a two-handed slam dunk with one minute showing on the clock to put the Wildcats up for good in the 93-91 double-overtime victory.
It's the Wildcats first title since 2008 and also the first double overtime championship game since 1984 -the tournament's first-ever appearance in Asheville - when Marshall topped Chattanooga 111-107.
"What a whale of a ballgame in terms of heart and competitive effort," WCU head coach Larry Hunter started in his post-game press conference. "Congratulations to Davidson, they have such a great ball club. They had to do what they had to do. I told the guys in the last timeout that I didn't think we had a third overtime in us so I said that we were going for the win. We got our best shooter a really good look, but it didn't go in."
"I've been a college coach for 41 years now. I told the guys in the locker room that I've never had a team spill their guts like that team did tonight. They gave me everything they had - we had breakdowns, but it wasn't because of what was in our chest (heart)," added Hunter.
Cole finished with game-high honors for the Catamounts with 21 points on the night. Tawaski King posted a double-double with 20 points and 10 boards, scoring 10 of his points from the free throw line. Harouna Mutombo tallied 20 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three steals in an all-around solid performance for the Purple & Gold, with Trey Sumler chipping in 18 points, five boards and four assists.
Brooks and J.P. Kuhlman led Davidson with 19 points and eight rebounds apiece. Jake Cohen had 17 points, seven rebounds and seven blocks, while Nike Cochran added 16 points, six rebounds and six assists.
Both teams held double-digit leads in the game with Western Carolina racing to a 12-point edge in the first half and Davidson leading by as many as 13 in the second. The Wildcats went up 13, 74-61, on Cohen's jumper with 2:47 left in the game. The Catamounts then went on a feverish 14-to-2 run capped by back-to-back treys from Sumler, the last coming with just 20 seconds left to cut it to a one-point deficit, 76-75.
Cochran was immediately fouled and hit both ends of the one-and-bonus to make it a three-point game. On the other end, a Cole 3-pointer was off the mark, but a foul on Cochran sent him to the charity stripe for three shots with 11 ticks left. He calmly sank all three. Steals by Sumler for WCU and Kuhlman for the Wildcats kept any buzzer-beating moments from happening.
Davidson went up four, 84-80, in overtime on three-point play by Brooks at 2:16. Two King free throws and a layup by Mutombo with 59 seconds remaining tied it at 84-all. A Cohen field goal and two more free tosses from Mutombo knotted the score at 86-all with the shot clock off and 26 seconds to play. Mutombo stole Cohen's inbounds pass and fed Cole streaking in the lane as Mutombo was falling out of bounds. Cole's contested layup was off the mark and Cohen's rebound led to a Wildcats timeout with 18 seconds left. Brooks' game-winner rattled out and sent the game into a second extra period.
The second overtime period was a nail-biter throughout as neither team had better than a one-possession lead. Chris Czerapowicz struck first with a three for Davidson at 4:29. James Sinclair answered for WCU at 3:02 with a three-ball of his own as the shot clock expired.
Cochran's layup on the Wildcats' next trip down the floor gave his mates a 91-89 advantage. After both squads traded missed three-pointers, King went to the line as Cohen fouled out being over-aggressive on the block.
King made both free throws to tie it for the sixth time on the night, fourth in extra periods, with 1:24 to go. Clint Mann found himself unguarded and drove the baseline and slammed in the final points of the night for a 93-91 lead at 1:04. The combatants traded missed shots and the Catamounts had the ball with 14 seconds left.
With the clock running down, Cole got a good look from 22 feet. The shot bounced off the rim. Mann then grabbed the board and got the outlet pass to the wing as the buzzer sounded.
"My hat is off to Larry Hunter and the Western Carolina Catamounts," opened Davidson head coach Bob McKillop during the post-game press conference. "They had one of the greatest tournament runs in my tenure in the Southern Conference. They never quit. They had their backs against the wall and they were relentless with their willingness to fight to the end."
It was an amazing performance by both the favored Wildcats and gritty Catamounts playing their fourth game in four nights. From the moment WCU made its comeback from 13 down and 2:47 to play, it made all 16 free throw attempts including all eight in the bonus 10 minutes.
Most Outstanding Player: De'Mon Brooks, Davidson