Charleston, S.C. - Freshman Desmond Johnson boarded his eighth miss in a monster performance off the bench, flinging the ball towards midcourt to expire the final seconds off the game clock as Western Carolina opened Southern Conference play with a two-point, 81-79, road victory over The Citadel Saturday afternoon at the McAlister Field House.
After watching a 13-point second half advantage evaporate -- and clinging to a two-point lead in the closing seconds -- junior post Marc Gosselin registered a blocked shot on a Tariq Simmons lay-up attempt, slinging the ball in to the first row of seats to set-up the Bulldogs with an underneath out-of-bounds play with 3.9 showing on the clock. On the ensuing inbounds, The Citadel worked the ball into junior post Zane Najdawi who maneuvered into the middle of the lane.
With Gosselin playing tall, Najdawi's floater rimmed out and Johnson leaped to grab the loose basketball, throwing it towards the opposite end of the court as the final seconds ticked away to ice the victory -- WCU's sixth-straight road win at The Citadel and 12th victory over the Bulldogs in the past 14 series meetings. The win also marked WCU's first true road victory of the season, giving the Catamounts three victories away from home to date this year.
Johnson paced three Catamounts in double figures, scoring a career-high 19 points to accompany his career bests with eight rebounds and eight steals in his bid for a triple-double in the winning effort. His eight thefts are tied for the second-most by a Catamount in a single-game, one behind the record held by Hall of Famer, Henry Logan.
Johnson was joined off the bench by senior Ashley Williams with 11 points including a pair of clutch 3-pointers in the waning moments of the game, while junior transfer Mike Amius finished with a dozen points among the Catamount leaders. Williams added three steals as the Catamounts tallied 12 thefts on the afternoon.
Gosselin just missed a double-double with nine points and a game-high 11 rebounds, while freshman Marcus Thomas again played large off the bench, finishing with nine points and Adam Sledd scored seven in the overall solid team victory.
Both halves on Saturday saw teams build double-digit leads only to watch them slip away. The Citadel took the first turn with the large advantage, racing to a 16 point, 35-19, edge with 7:32 remaining in the first half thanks in part to strong 3-point shooting that included eight made treys before intermission. The Bulldogs also capitalized on 12 WCU first half turnovers, converting it into 14 points.
However, the Catamounts roared back over the final seven minutes of the half, ignited by a two-hand slam by Amius that started a 13-0 run that was capped by a Gosselin 3-pointer. All told, WCU closed the first half by outscoring The Citadel, 25-to-3, to lead by six, 44-38, at intermission.
In the second half, WCU was able to hold the Bulldogs at arm's length before building its game-high advantage of 13 coming on an Onno Steger free throw with 9:17 to play. But, the Bulldogs would not go away. On the strength of a 19-to-2 run, The Citadel clawed back into contention, erasing the 13-point deficit and built a four-point, 74-70, lead with three minutes remaining.
Williams then took over. The sharp-shooter from the Crystal Coast -- Morehead City, N.C. -- connected on consecutive treys on back-to-back possessions to give WCU the lead back a minute later, 76-74, with two minutes showing on the McAlister Field House clock. Thomas added a lay-up and a pair of free throws to maintain the lead before Quayson Williams made it a one-point margin with a corner triple, 80-79.
Fouled after breaking the Bulldog's tenacious full-court press, Johnson sank one of two free throws inside the final 20 seconds setting up the frantic finish before he closed the win on the defensive glass.
The Citadel (5-8, 0-1 SoCon) put four players in double figures with freshman Tariq Simmons leading the way with 16 points. Junior sharp-shooter Matt Frierson scored all 15 of his points from beyond the 3-point arc, while Alex Reed (13) and Najdawi (11) also recorded double digits. Reed added a team-high eight rebounds while Najdawi had six blocked shots underneath.
While the Bulldogs managed 39 points from behind the arc on 13-of-44 shooting, Western Carolina commanded the paint to the tune of 46-to-18 in points down low. WCU hit two 3-pointers in both halves, and won the battle of the boards, 56-to-50, including a 23-to-17 edge in offensive rebounds.
Western Carolina (5-8, 1-0 SoCon) remains on the road for its next two league games as the Catamounts travel to Chattanooga (7:30 pm) on Thurs., Jan. 4 before a Saturday, Jan. 6 date with Samford (8:00 pm ET). Both games will be broadcast on the Catamount Sports Network with video provided through the home school productions on ESPN3.