CULLOWHEE, N.C. – Arlon Harper tallied a season-high 26 points to lead Charleston Southern back from an eight-point halftime deficit but Western Carolina hit a school record 20 three-pointers to defeat the Bucs, 92-84, at the Ramsey Center on Wednesday night.
Western Carolina (6-7) senior guard Tom Tankelewicz put on a brilliant shooting display to lead the Catamounts, connecting on 10-of-18 from three for a career-high 30 points. The Catamounts hit 20-of-35 from beyond the arc as a team. WCU's Brandon Boggs knocked down six triples and chipped in 22 points, while Trey Sumler added 18.
Harper scored 15 of his 26 points after halftime to push CSU (3-6) back into the lead several times after WCU had opened up a nine-point advantage. Senior Matt Kennedy contributed an efficient 18 points on only nine shot attempts, and Will Saunders also reached double figures with 12 points.
"I thought Western Carolina played very well," CSU head coach Barclay Radebaugh said. "Obviously, they shot the lights out of the ball and made some very difficult shots. We'll have to go back and see defensively where we can improve. We haven't had a team shoot like that against us since maybe one of the old VMI teams. They played very well and answered our runs. I thought the first 12 minutes of the second half we played much better. The first half, I didn't think we were ready to play and we let them get some confidence and momentum."
The Bucs trailed 48-40 at halftime after the Catamounts shot 60 percent overall and made 11-of-17 three-point attempts in the opening stanza. CSU forced four turnovers and held WCU to 2-of-7 shooting to open the second period, though, to move back in front. An 8-0 run allowed the Bucs to surge ahead, 57-56, with 13:21 remaining, as Harper came up with a steal and went end-to-end for an old-fashioned three-point play.
CSU would enjoy its last lead of the nip and tuck second half at the 8:00 mark, as Saunders drove the lane and found Paul Gombwer for a layup and a 64-62 Bucs' cushion. The Bucs tied the game at 71-71 courtesy of four straight free throws, but Tankelewicz drilled one of his ten treys at the 4:17 mark to give the Catamounts the cushion for good. Sumler had a steal and lay-in to quickly push the WCU lead to five, and after Saunders answered with a three, Tankelewicz buried another to up the advantage to 79-74 with 3:23 left.
CSU made its final push on a Saunders drive that cut the deficit to 81-77 with 1:46 left, but Tankelewicz had yet another response, swishing a long three from the left wing to give WCU a seven-point lead before free throws iced it down the stretch.
CSU assumed control early, establishing a 7-0 lead in the opening 54 seconds of the contest. Kennedy made a mid-range jumper, Harper sailed home a three from the corner, and Nimley found Alhaji Fullah on an alley-oop during the spurt.
A Kennedy triple moved CSU ahead 12-5, but WCU answered with an 11-0 run to take its first lead. Boggs hit two threes to highlight the stretch, the second of which gave the Catamounts a 16-12 advantage at the 13:35 mark.
Neither side would lead by more than three for the rest of the stanza until WCU ripped off an 11-3 charge to seize a 42-34 advantage. Sumler canned a three-pointer from the top of the key to jumpstart the run, and Tankelewicz hit one of his five first half treys as well. He added two more in the final 53 seconds of the half to send the Catamounts into the locker room up 48-40.
CSU wraps up a three-game road swing Saturday at Central Arkansas. Tipoff in Conway, Ark. is set for 1 p.m. eastern time.
"Our tough schedule continues and hopefully we can get this thing figured out and get on the right track and continue to work hard to get ready for conference play," Radebaugh said. "Central Arkansas is a much improved team. They're a dribble-drive team that shoots the ball well and is very athletic. It will be a real challenge for us."