Wofford proves too much, downs Western in SoCon semifinals

Senior James Sinclair, in his final game, reacts to the final seconds of Wofford's 73-61 win.  Photo by Jake Myers.

Senior James Sinclair, in his final game, reacts to the final seconds of Wofford’s 73-61 win. Photo by Jake Myers.

For the second year in a row and four of the last six seasons, Wofford sent Western Carolina off the court of the U.S. Cellular Center and into another offseason as the top-seeded Terriers upended the Catamounts 73-61 in the Southern Conference Basketball Championship semifinals.

The loss puts Western Carolina 3-10 all-time against the tournament’s top seed.

Wofford junior guard Spencer Collins led all scorers with 17 points, going 10-of-13 from the free throw line and adding five rebounds. Lee Skinner scored 14 points on 5-of-8 from the field and grabbed six rebounds. Senior guard and Southern Conference player of the year Karl Cochran struggled to find any rhythm in the first half but managed 11 points –all in the second half – on 3-of-6 from 3-point range.

“Wofford is an awfully good basketball team,” said Western head coach Larry Hunter.  “They have a lot of pieces of a puzzle.  You can’t just key in on one or two guys.”

Western Carolina’s senior guard and all-conference selection James Sinclair – coming off a 30-point performance in the quarterfinals yesterday against ETSU – had trouble finding his own space and finished with 16 points on 5-of-19 from the field. Torrion Brummitt was the only other Catamount in double figures, totaling 12 points, and Mike Brown came close to his second consecutive double-double, scoring nine points and pulling down 12 rebounds.

In what became a physical battle all game, both teams came out strong on the defensive end of the floor, combining for just nine points heading into the game’s first media timeout. The teams traded baskets out of the timeout before a pair of threes pushed the Terriers lead to 15-10.

With 5:24 remaining in the first half, the Terriers took a 10-pont lead, their largest of the half, on back-to-back buckets by Collins and Skinner. Western Carolina stuck with Wofford, and the Terriers took a 31-21 lead into halftime.

Wofford shot a strong 58 percent in the first half compared to 32 percent for Western.

The Terriers would take over in the second half behind hot shooting from Karl Cochran. The senior would hit three 3-pointers in the half to break open the game and give Wofford a 14-point lead heading into the under-8:00 timeout.

The Terriers led by as many as 18 points in the second half and only trailed for 1:20 in the game.

Western Carolina tried to climb back into the game, holding Wofford scoreless for 4:08 and using a 7-0 run to cut the Terrier lead to 61-52 with 3:53 remaining. Wofford used the charity stripe to keep its distance from the Catamounts down the stretch to take the 73-61 victory into the finals.

The free-throw line proved to be the difference in the game. Wofford shot 24-of-32 compared to 9-of-12 for Western Carolina.

James Sinclair – known to the Catamount faithful as “Slick” –  had a chance to reflect on his Western career shortly after playing his final game.

“I wouldn’t want to go to war with anybody else than the people in our locker room,” said Sinclair.  “Coach, the assistants, and all the players have given me a very loving and special career here at Western. I truly believe I wouldn’t be the same player I am today if I didn’t attend this school.”

Western has advanced to five conference semifinals in the last six seasons under Larry Hunter.