Dec. 31, 2012
Cullowhee, N.C. - Rallying from a seven-point deficit, Trey Sumler handed Western Carolina a four-point lead with 10 seconds remaining in regulation with an old-fashioned three-point play. However, Liberty scored the final five points of the game including two on technical foul shots as the Flames escaped the Ramsey Center with a 63-62 victory over the Catamounts in nonconference play.
Sumler established and broke the game's fifth tie with a pair of free throws with just under a minute to play in regulation. WCU's defense forced a turnover on Liberty's next possession as Brandon Boggs swiped a lob pass into the right low post, giving the Catamounts the ball with a one-point advantage. Working the shot clock to its limit at the other end of the court, Sumler managed a drive down the right side of the lane and found the bottom of the bucket on a fall-away runner on which he was fouled.
After Sumler drained the free throw - capping an 11-to-0 WCU run -- Liberty's John Caleb Sanders responded by driving the length of the floor, connecting on a lay-up and drawing a blocking foul. He stepped to the line and completed the three-point play, answering Sumler's.
On WCU's ensuing inbounds play, the Catamounts were tagged with a technical foul for calling an excessive timeout - one it did not possess. Liberty's Tavares Speaks stepped to the charity line and sank both free throws, handing the Flames the one-point lead.
With five seconds remaining in regulation, Sumler raced the length of the floor and put up a runner from the right side that just rimmed out at the buzzer, halting the Catamounts five-game home winning streak and relegating WCU (4-9) to its third-straight defeat on the season.
"We have inbounds play that we use in that situation and there was some confusion about that, but the game should not have come down to that," said WCU head coach Larry Hunter on the end of the game scenario during post-game comments on the Catamount Sports Network. "The last three minutes of the game were the only time I actually thought we played the way we should've played. It was like pulling teeth all day today to get our guys to play the way that we want them to. We just didn't look like one of our teams."
"I give Liberty a lot of credit - they stepped up and made some big shots when they needed. But I don't think we played very well today, bottom line," Hunter added.
Sumler paced three Catamounts in double figures with 23 points including three 3-pointers. Tawaski King, who was saddled with foul trouble in the first half, returned to double-figure scoring with 12 points and six rebounds while James Sinclair finished with 11 and a team-best eight boards. King added a career-high tying four steals as WCU forced 24 Liberty turnovers - their season high.
Freshman Mike Brown scored eight points off the bench for WCU.
Neither team seemed in rhythm early in the first half which saw four ties and seven lead changes. After leading by two twice in the opening moments of the game, the Catamounts wrestled the lead back from Liberty as Sinclair converted a Tom Tankelewicz steal into a lay-up to put WCU ahead by three, 22-19, with 3:24 remaining in the opening stanza.
Yet, the Flames responded with 10-straight points to close the half, erasing the Catamounts' edge and carrying a seven-point, 29-22, lead into the halftime locker room.
In the second half, Liberty's lead grew to a game-high nine points on a 3-pointer by Davon Marshall at the 13:32 mark. Western Carolina methodically chipped away at the Flames advantage, twice pulling to within two points only to see Liberty open it back up to a seven-point lead. A four-point play by Sumler made it a two-point margin midway through the second half before Liberty responded with five-straight points. The second occasion came following an offensive stick-back by freshman Mike Brown at the 5:40 mark only to see Liberty score seven of the next nine points to reclaim its seven-point edge.
WCU finally managed to knot the game and to reclaim the lead on a pair of Sumler free throws that followed a defensive steal by King, 59-58. Sumler's ensuing three-point play gave the Catamounts their largest lead of the game, setting up the finish.
Liberty (4-10) matched WCU with three players in double figures led by 13 from Speaks including 7-of-8 from the free throw line. Tomasz Gielo posted a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds while Marshall also scored 10 points. Joel Vander Pol and John Caleb Sanders both finished with nine points apiece.
WCU managed to go perfect from the free throw line on Monday - 12-for-12 - but were outscored by six from the stripe as the Flames finished 18-of-22. Liberty also won the battle on the boards 39-to-28, matching the Catamounts with 12 offensive rebounds.
Western Carolina returns to action in Southern Conference play on Saturday, Jan. 5, by visiting The Citadel in Charleston, S.C. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:05 pm.
Post-Game Notes - Western Carolina vs. Liberty:
- Western Carolina dropped to 1-2 all-time against the Liberty Flames, suffering its first defeat at home in the three-game series (1-1) ... the Catamounts also fell to 103-95 all-time against teams from the Big South Conference;
- WCU dropped to 2-7 all-time on New Year's Eve, losing its first-ever home game on the final day of a calendar year ... the Catamounts have lost five-straight games on New Year's Eve;
- The Catamounts finished with a 1-5 record in the month of December - playing four of the six games on the road and two nationally-ranked opponents (Illinois, Georgetown);
- Western Carolina's five-game home unbeaten streak was snapped ... Despite the loss, WCU has won 48 of their last 58 (48-10, .828) games inside the Ramsey Center ... Under head coach Larry Hunter, WCU is 69-24 (.742) at home;
- Trey Sumler moved into 35th all-time in school history in scoring, by-passing Bill Bowen (1956-57) ... Sumler now has 1,070 career points.