Western stifles Asheville for second win of the season

Junior guard James Sinclair couldn’t help but smile during his post-game interview in a 74-67 Western Carolina win over UNC Ashville Monday night in the Ramsey Center.

“Revenge is a sweet taste,” Sinclair said still smiling.

He was referring to last year’s season-opening 71-61 loss to UNC Asheville in which he scored only three points off the bench.

You may not have seen the look on his face, but you could imagine what the aftermath of his 17-point performance Monday night would look like.  Sinclair fell two points and one assist shy of his career-highs – he had five assists on the night.  Offensively, he was 5-of-14, but shot 50 percent on 3-of-6 from 3-point range.

James Sinclair goes up for a transition dunk. Photo by Mark Haskett, WCU Public Relations.

Defensively, Sinclair set a new career-high with five steals and added a block.

“James has a chance to be our next all-conference player.  He’s very talented and very comfortable now with how he should play,” head coach Larry Hunter said after the game.”  He’s just a good basketball player and he brings a lot of energy when he steps on the court.  He really gives you everything he’s got.”

After senior forward Tawaski King hit a mid-range jumper to push the Catamount lead to 17-12 with 9:31 remaining in the first half, Western went on a 14-8 run highlighted by a Brandon Boggs 360 dunk and a Sinclair three.  King, who scored six points during the run, capped off a stellar 12-point first half performance shooting 5-of-6 from the floor and hitting both of his free throws.  He finished with 14 points and four rebounds on the night.

Western took a 38-27 lead into halftime.

In the second half, Asheville came out strong.  They outscored the Catamounts 11-5 over the first five and a half minutes to cut the lead to five.  But that was as close as the Bulldogs would come the rest of the game.

Sinclair, or “Slick” as he is known on the basketball court, brought his smooth jumper all night long and scored five straight points to push the Catamount lead back to double-digits at the 11:24 mark in the second half.

“We are a veteran team.  Our team chemistry was there for us,” Sinclair said in his postgame comments.  “Early in the ballgame, we weren’t really hitting shots but then we got it together as a group and executed to win.”

The team may have five seniors, but Monday night showcased more of the “other guys.”

The “other guys” are the young guns of Western Carolina’s bench in sophomores Torrion Brummitt, Rhett Harrelson, Mike Brown, and Justin Browning.  They scored 20 combined points.

Browning carried over his performance Friday night against Wittenberg and scored six points while grabbing three rebounds.  On the defensive end, he added three blocks and two steals.  And for the second consecutive game, he had a transition dunk.

Harrelson had seven points going 4-for-4 from the free-throw line.  Brummitt had four points and three rebounds, while Brown made his mark on the offensive glass, ripping down five offensive rebounds.

“I think our bench is very deep this year and our sophomore class is a lot more comfortable with our system this year and in their roles, coach Hunter said.  Their doing a nice job.  We’re not super big, but we’re long and athletic and that’s going to be our forte this year.  We just have to keep working and getting better.”

Western shot 41 percent from the floor and 50 percent from 3-point range.  Senior guard Tom Tankelewicz continued his sharpshooting ways shooting 4-of-7 from the floor and hitting 3-of-4 from behind the arc.  He finished with 14 points.

The tale of the tape comes from the aggressiveness and up-tempo play coach Hunter’s team displayed all night.  They had a 13 fast break points and a 27-15 advantage in points off turnovers.

“I thought our energy level, our togetherness was really good,” coach Hunter said.  We had some parts of the game on both ends of the court where we executed very well.  We beat a good basketball team.

“With the week we have ahead of us, it’s a good way to start.”

And nothing is going to get easier moving forward.

WCU hits the road for a 10-day, six-game road trip that starts with No.18/19 Oregon on Wednesday, November 13.  Back-to-back games at Virginia Tech and Liberty on Friday, November 15 and Saturday, November 16 await the Catamounts when they return to the east coast.

Sinclair “put the team on his back” against UNC Asheville without all-conference guard Trey Sumler, and attributes his progression as a point-guard and player to the veteran.

“It all started my freshman year.  Trey and I worked on it after practice until I got comfortable with the offense.  I’m enjoying [the role] but I would rather have my backcourt mate out there with me.”

And with Sumler returning soon, this team will only get better.

That will be sweet.