Cullowhee, N.C. - Playing its first home game in over a month, Western Carolina scored a pivotal home victory on the strength of three, third-year players and a stingy defense that forced High Point into an opponent season-high tying 17 turnovers. Junior Devin Peterson scored a game-high 18 points and redshirt junior Haboubacar Mutombo added 13 to lead a balanced Catamount attack as WCU held off the Panthers for a 70-65 nonconference victory in the Ramsey Center.
The victory halted a six-game slide for the Catamounts in the all-time head-to-head series against the purple-cladded Panthers. It was WCU's first win over High Point -- the four-time defending Big South regular season champion -- since 1968, though the teams have only met four times on the men's basketball hardwood dating back to 1970.
Leading for over 28 of the scheduled 40 minutes, Western Carolina (4-7) grabbed a game-high 16-point lead with six minutes remaining in regulation. But, the Catamounts had to hold off a feverish rally by the Panthers as High Point outscored WCU 23-to-12 to end the game within a pair of possessions. WCU shot just 2-of-6 from the free throw line over the final 30 seconds to allow HPU to creep within three, 68-65, before Peterson sank a pair of game-sealing charity tosses to provide the final tally.
Peterson scored nine in both halves while finishing 6-of-9 from the floor and added six free throws to just miss his career benchmark by one point. The Milton, Ga., native added four assists and three steals in the winning effort. Mutombo was a second half catalyst for WCU, scoring 11 of his 13 points in the second half. He added five rebounds and two steals.
Making his seasonal debut at home, a third junior -- guard Ashley Williams -- scored a career-high eight timely points off the bench as WCU overcame the adversity of losing senior guard Deriece Parks late in the first half to a knee injury. Charlendez Brooks scored a season-high six points, all from the free throw line.
WCU's bench held a commanding 43-to-13 edge in scoring. Eleven of the 12 players that saw action scored points for the Catamounts.
High Point (6-6) put four players in double figures on Monday with post Tarique Thompson pacing the Panthers with a double-double effort of 14 points and 15 rebounds. Ricky Madison and Anthony Lindauer scored 13 apiece with Jamal Wright scoring five of his 12 points from the free throw line.
The Panthers held a slim lead much of the opening 10 minutes Monday night before Williams connected on an offensive stick-back to give WCU a 9-8 lead midway through the first half -- a lead that the home squad would maintain the remainder of the contest. WCU's advantage expanded to as many as seven before intermission. Thanks to a buzzer-beating runner down the lane by Williams, the Catamounts carried a three-point edge into the locker room.
High Point managed to knot the game at 31 in the opening moments of the second half. However, the Catamounts responded with a 12-to-1 run over the next five minutes including five-straight points by Marc Gosselin, four-consecutive by Peterson, and a corner 3-pointer by Williams to put WCU in front, 43-32.
A Mutombo triple pushed the margin to 15 at the eight minute mark, and two minutes later he surged the Catamounts ahead by a game-high 16 with a jumper in the lane, 58-42.
But High Point would not go away. Wright drilled a 3-pointer with three and a half to play to make it a 10-point game, while Lindauer twice pushed the game into single-digits with triples of his own, the latter at the two minute mark. An 8-0 spurt inside the final 30 seconds trimmed the deficit to just three, 68-65, before Peterson's game-sealing free throws.
Western Carolina continues its five-game home stand on Thursday night as it hosts former SoCon foe, College of Charleston. The Cougars, who will play their fourth-straight away from their downtown Charleston home arena on Thursday, had their five-game win streak snapped Monday night with a 10-point, 75-65, loss at LSU. Tip-off from the Ramsey Center is scheduled for 7:00 pm.