ASHEVILLE, N.C. (March 7, 2015) – Entering Saturday’s quarterfinal matchup with Western Carolina at the Southern Conference Tournament, the ETSU men’s basketball team had enjoyed 17 straight wins over the Catamounts, a streak dating back to the 1997-98 season.
Unfortunately for the Buccaneers, they could not make it 18.
Western Carolina senior guard James Sinclair scored a game-high 30 points – 21 coming in the first half – helping to power the Catamounts past the Bucs in a hard-fought 67-61 overtime win at the U.S. Cellular Center. After trailing for all but the first four minutes of the game, ETSU battled back to makeup a five-point deficit in the final minute of regulation and forced overtime, but the Bucs ran out of steam in the extra five minutes of play.
With the loss, ETSU ends its season at 16-14, while Western Carolina improves to 15-16 and will face No. 1 seed Wofford in Sunday’s semifinals.
“I thought our guys battled and gave a lot of effort, we just didn’t get shots to fall when we needed them,” said ETSU head coach Murry Bartow, whose team had two opportunities to take the lead on 3-point shots in overtime but were unable to connect from long range. “Give Western Carolina credit, they played well and Sinclair had an unbelievable game for them. We just couldn’t match him tonight.”
Along with Sinclair’s 30-point effort, the Catamounts also got 16 points from junior guard Mike Brown, as both players finished with double-doubles. For the Bucs, junior forward Lester Wilson (Knoxville) finished with a team-high 17 points, while senior guard Rashawn Rembert (Tampa, Fla.) and sophomore guard A.J. Merriweather (Jackson) netted 14 and 11 points, respectively. Merriweather finished with a double-double courtesy of his 10 rebounds.
Both teams struggled offensively throughout the game, with ETSU shooting just 32 percent from the field and Western Carolina connecting on just 33 percent of its shots. Both teams finished with 47 rebounds each, but the Bucs were hampered by 19 turnovers in the contest.
In the first half, ETSU struggled on both ends of the floor while Western’s Sinclair showed his all-conference credentials, scoring his 21 points before the break. Meanwhile, ETSU shot just 30 percent from the floor and committed 11 turnovers.
Despite those numbers, the Buccaneers still managed to trail by just eight points at 35-27 by the intermission.
After the break, the Bucs cut the Catamounts lead to three points by scoring the first five points of the half, but Western continued to hold the advantage throughout the half and led 56-51 with just over a minute left in regulation. At that point, Sinclair missed the first shot of a one-and-one opportunity, which was followed by the only made 3-pointer of the day for ETSU senior guard Jalen Riley (Racine, Wis.), who finished his final game at ETSU with eight points on 2-of-11 shooting from the floor.
The Bucs again sent the Catamounts to the line seconds later, but Brown missed the one-and-one opportunity, setting up a game-tying basket by Wilson. After a Western timeout, Sinclair then missed a contested jumper at the buzzer to send the game to overtime.
In the extra period, Western went up quickly 60-56, but sophomore guard Devin Harris (Tampa, Fla.) made three of four free throw attempts to make it 60-59 with 1:13 left. Unfortunately for the Bucs, they could never gain the lead and ultimately fell 67-61.
For more on ETSU men’s basketball throughout the offseason, visit ETSUBucs.com and click on the men’s hoops link.