Dec. 4, 2012
Champaign, Ill. - Western Carolina erased a 12-point second half deficit, twice tying Tuesday's game at No. 13 Illinois after intermission. However, despite being able to pull even, the Catamounts could never pull ahead as the Fighting Illini remained unbeaten on the season, slipping past WCU, 72-64, in front of 14,191 fans in nonconference action at Assembly Hall.
WCU's James Sinclair knotted the game for a second time with 5:53 to play, converting an Illinois turnover into a fast-break lay-up to make it 54-54. However, spurred by two 3-pointers on consecutive possessions by D.J. Richardson, the Fighting Illini used a 14-to-4 run over the next two minutes to stretch the advantage back out to a 10-point margin. The closest WCU could get the remainder of the game was six on a Brandon Boggs' 3-pointer with just over 30 ticks remaining.
During Illinois' decisive run, WCU missed two open looks and turned the ball over twice. All told, 22 Catamount turnovers led to 29 Illinois points in the loss.
Preston Ross scored in double figures for the third time this season - and the eighth time in his career - to lead the Catamounts with 17 points. His junior classmate, Boggs, chipped in 16 off the bench including 10 of the team's first 12 points of the ballgame. Tawaski King, a third junior, stretched his double-digit scoring streak to a career-long, 10-straight games with 10 points while Sinclair recorded 13 points and eight rebounds.
Redshirt junior Trey Sumler was held to eight points, but reached the 1,000 career point milestone. The Rocky Mount, N.C., native added a game-high nine rebounds and four assists.
Neither team was able to fill the cup early as WCU (3-6) missed nine of its first 10 shot attempts, but trailed by just 10 - 17-7 - midway through the opening half as Illinois shot just 3-of-14 to start. Seven-straight Catamount points allowed WCU to claw back within three, 17-14, but Illinois pulled out to a 10-point, 32-22, edge at halftime.
A Tracy Abrams tip-in on an offensive rebound gave the Fighting Illini their largest lead of the night - 12 points, 34-22 - in the opening moments of the second half. Western Carolina put together a 9-0 run to trim the deficit back to three, 34-31, before big man Nnanna Egwu stepped beyond the arc on the ensuing possession and buried a 3-pointer.
Ross later completed a 3-point play the old-fashioned way to provide the game's first tie, 40-40, with 13:29 remaining in regulation. From that point, Illinois' lead hovered in single digits until Sinclair again tied the game at 54 before the aforementioned clinching run by the home squad sealed the win.
Brandon Paul - the second-leading scorer in the Big Ten Conference at 18.3 points per game - led Illinois (9-0) with 14 points, his second-lowest point output of the season. D.J. Richardson added 13 points including 10 in the second half while Tracy Abrams finished with 10 points.
The Catamounts outrebounded Illinois, 41-to-34, with both squads tallying 18 offensive boards. WCU converted the extra possessions into 14 points while Illinois had 22 second-chance points.
Western Carolina returns home for the first time since its Nov. 11 home-opening win over Mars Hill as it hosts archrival Appalachian State in the back-end of a hoops double-header in the Ramsey Center. The Catamount women host Tennessee Tech beginning at 2:00 pm with the men's game scheduled for 4:30 pm. For ticket information, log onto CatamountSports.com or call 800-34-GOWCU.
Western Carolina at #13 Illinois - Post-Game Notes:
- Western Carolina fell to just 1-14 all-time against teams from the Big Ten Conference, 0-2 all-time against Illinois in a series that dates back just to 2007 ... the Catamounts also dropped to 0-37 against teams ranked inside the national top 25 - in 2009, WCU upended Louisville at Freedom Hall with the Cardinals ranked 29th at the time;
- Redshirt junior guard Trey Sumler became the 40th Catamount men's basketball player all-time to score 1,000 points in his career for the Purple & Gold ... Sumler entered Tuesday's game with 992 career points, scoring eight to evenly reach 1,000 ... Sumler reached the 1,000-point plateau with his second made 3-pointer of the second half coming at the 14:11 mark;
- Illinois, which entered Tuesday's game leading the NCAA in 3-pointers made per game at 11.3, was held to a season-low matching seven made treys (7-of-24) ... WCU limited the Fighting Illini to 29.2-percent from long range, a season-low shooting percentage from behind the arc for Illinois;
- Tuesday's game was a reunion of sorts for WCU head coach Larry Hunter and Illinois assistant, Dustin Ford ... Ford played for Hunter at Ohio University before joining Hunter's WCU staff for three seasons before returning to his alma mater, Ohio, to join the John Groce - Illinois' current head coach - staff in Athens, Ohio and now Champaign, Ill.