CULLOWHEE, N.C. - Freshman forward Emily Hatfield drained a pair of free throws, with 2.1 seconds left in the game, to propel Western Carolina women's basketball to a 75-74 win over North Greenville Wednesday in the Ramsey Center.
The Catamounts move above .500 for the first time this season improving to 4-3 on the year while North Greenville falls to 2-6.
Trailing by two points, 74-73, Western Carolina forced North Greenville's Alisha Hope to throw the ball out of bounds, on the inbound play, under the Catamount's basket to get the ball back with eight seconds left. Freshman guard Ace Easter had just sliced the Crusader's lead to one when she nailed a jumper just inside the three point line for a two-pointer.
Senior guard Justin Taylor attempted a potential winning jumper and missed it but Hatfield was there for the offensive rebound. Hatfield went up for a lay-up and was fouled setting up the pair of game-winning free throws.
Western Carolina came out on fire in the first half, even leading by 13, 27-14, with 9:08 left. In the final nine minutes of the first half North Greenville went on a 21-12 run to take a 35-34 lead into the locker room.
Early in the second half, North Greenville built its largest lead of the game, 49-41, when Hope hit of three-pointer. It was one of 11 three pointers the Crusaders hit in the game.
The Catamounts weathered the long-range shooting of North Greenville and battled back. WCU took its first lead of the second half, 50-49 with 10:39 left, when Taylor hit 1-of-2 free throws.
It was a back-and-forth affair after that between Western Carolina and North Greenville. After each team enjoyed the lead from the four minute mark on the game was tied for the sixth time, 66-66, with 1:01 left.
Taylor hit 1-of-2 free throws to put WCU up by one but North Greenville answered when Cameron Carter hit a jumper to take the lead, 68-67 with 47 seconds left in the contest.
In the final 40 seconds North Greenville did all it could to fend off Western Carolina. The Crusaders led by three, 70-67, with 34 seconds left after Carter hit a pair of free throws. In fact, North Greenville was 6-of-6 from the free throw line in those last 30 seconds but couldn't shake off a determined Western Carolina squad.
For every pair of free throws North Greenville hit, in those last 30 seconds, Western Carolina answered with a basket or free throws of its own. From a lay-up by Ali Lane, with 22 seconds left, to Easter's big jumper that was a hair's breathe from being a three-pointer, to cut the North Greenville lead to 74-73 with eight seconds left, the Catamounts had an answer. Western Carolina played a gritty hard-nosed game in the final seconds of the game to earn the win.
Taylor led Western Carolina with 22 points - the fourth time this season she has scored 20 or more points. It is also the seventh straight game she has scored 20 or more points and the 12th overall, dating back to the 2013-14 season.
Following on Tayler's heels, with double figure performances, was a pair of freshman. Rookie guard Ace Easter scored a career-high 16 points and fellow freshman Kyia Hough added career-high with 10 points, both off the bench.
Western Carolina out-rebounded North Greenville 44 to 31 including ripping down 32 on the defensive end. The Catamounts weathered turning the ball over 20 times but helped themselves out by shooting 46.8 percent from the field. The Catamounts also got 24 points inside the paint and 24 points from its bench.
North Greenville was led by Carter with 25 points. Hope followed with 21 and Tyler Powers had 12 - all coming from behind the three-point arch.
Former Western Carolina women's basketball great Jayne Arledge, the head coach at North Greenville, was honored before the game by Catamount Head Coach Karen Middleton and WCU player Erika Joseph - who got Arledge's permission to wear her retired jersey number, 25. Arledge is Western Carolina's all-time leading scorer (1,928) and the first female to receive athletic grant-in aid at Western Carolina University in 1976.
Western Carolina will play its final home game of 2014 Saturday when it welcomes USC Upstate. Tip time is set for 4 p.m. in the Ramsey Center.