Although it has been a rocky season, the Western Carolina Catamounts’ men’s basketball team looked to gain momentum with a win before heading into the Southern Conference tournament. This game against the Virginia Military Institute Keydets on Feb. 27 was pivotal because it decided seeds 8 through 10 in the conference tournament.
Even though the Catamounts had more losses than wins this season, the atmosphere in the Ramsey Center was electric. It became deafening with the announcement of the starters, and that volume only intensified as the game progressed. This was the final home game of the season, and 981 of the Catamounts’ closest friends made sure everyone knew it.
In their first match-up on Jan. 12, WCU lost a 79-78 heart-breaker to VMI. The Cats had the lead in that contest until the closing minutes, but missed shots by Elijah Pughsley and Haboubacar Mutombo led to the loss.
Nevertheless, this game would be a different story as the Catamounts were able to defeat the Keydets by 13 points, 81-68. The Cats were proficient offensively, as well as aggressive defensively.
WCU was down for nearly the entire first half, but Cats’ forward Ashley Williams tied the game at 35 apiece with a buzzer-beating tip-in going into halftime.
The main attraction for Catamount fans throughout the match-up was the rock-solid play by forward Marc Gosselin.
Gosselin was practically unstoppable, even though the Keydets tried its best to contain him. He had in-the-gym range converting on all four of his 3-pointers while shooting an outstanding 88 percent from the field. Gosselin finished with a career-high 20 points, along with 12 rebounds and four steals.
In addition to Marc Gosselin’s stellar night, the Cats had contributions from guards Devin Peterson and Haboubacar Mutombo, as well as bench production. Devin Peterson obtained 15 points, four assists, and three rebounds while shooting 50 percent from the field. Haboubacar Mutombo was able to muster 16 points, five assists, and six rebounds.
Furthermore, the bench played a significant role in WCU’s victory over VMI as the Cats had 22 points compared to the Keydets 11. Cats’ forward Yalim Olcay came off of the bench and tallied a career high 14 points with seven rebounds while shooting 63 percent from the field. Also, forward Ashley Williams chimed in with eight points.
VMI’s production came from star guards QJ Peterson and Julian Eleby. QJ Peterson finished with 20 points, eight rebounds, three assists, and three steals.
Keydets’ guard Julian Eleby obtained 19 points and four rebounds. Eleby was on fire in the first half converting 4 of 5 from beyond the arc garnering 14 points, but he cooled down in the second half due to lockdown defense by the Catamounts.
In an attempt to get into the heads of the Keydets in the second half, Catamount fans, particularly WCU’s rally band, chanted “Disappointment! Disappointment!”
Upon the conclusion of the game, WCU guard Devin Peterson and forward Marc Gosselin addressed the result of this contest, as well as the upcoming SoCon tournament.
“It’s been a tough season, but I’ve always felt we could be a good team if we play together. Hopefully we’ll shine in the tournament,” said forward Marc Gosselin.
“My teammates put me in a good position, so I’m glad they looked out for me. Whether it was Devin Peterson or Haboubacar Mutombo, we really played unselfishly,” said Gosselin on his performance.
WCU guard Devin Peterson was optimistic about going into the conference tournament:
“We answered well today. I think we look good going into the tournament. Our fans love to come out to Asheville, and I can’t wait. We’re looking to hit that streak…I feel like we got it going now.”
In his post-game interview, WCU’s coach Larry Hunter was pleased with his team’s performance:
“I thought our team did a lot of good things out there tonight. We played hard. That’s where it all starts…I’m really proud of our team defense overall,” said coach Hunter.
“Marc Gosselin was terrific on some kick-outs. He had a huge double-double for us. Yalim Olcay probably had his best game of the season. He played with a lot of energy. Our juniors Devin Peterson and Haboubacar Mutombo were just really, really solid.”
With the win against VMI, the Catamounts (9-22) head into the SoCon tournament as the number 8 seed against the Citadel Bulldogs (11-20). The game will take place Friday, March 3 at 5 p.m. in Asheville.