Willis & Jasper Lead Cougs In Loss With 16 Pts. Apiece
By: Jeff Walker, Sports Writer
Zep Jasper continued his double digit scoring streak, leading the College of Charleston men's basketball team with a team tying 16 points Friday night. Payton Willis matched Jasper with 16 points including 3 of 7 from long range. However their efforts weren't enough as the Cougars fell 76-70 in overtime to Western Carolina.
With the win the Catamounts improve to 7-2 on the season and put an end to a seven game losing skid to the Cougars. WCU was lead by Cory Hightower with a game high 17 points. Charleston suffer their fourth loss on the season, falling to 2-4 overall. It was the first game for CofC without senior leader Brevin Galloway who suffered a season ending ACL injury in the teams win over SC State.
A 3-point shot by Willis as time expired sent the game into overtime, but the home team fell flat in the extra five minutes of play. After playing catch up most of the contest and in the final minutes of regulation Charleston Head Coach Earl Grant gave his players kudos.
"Obviously, it was a tough, gritty overtime game. We made a big shot to get to that position. It was an uphill climb the whole game. We never led, but our guys hung with it and stuck to the plan. We took the lead late in the second half. I was excited about their grit, perseverance and just hanging in there to find a way to keep competing."
Coach Grant added, being without the services of Galloway creates a void. "He was our leading scorer. Of course, the floor is less spread. You have a sharpshooter like that who can shoot the ball so well. He is just the main focus of the opponent's defense sometimes. It's kind of hard to attack the gaps and create without him out there."
A layup on the first play of the contest by Osinachi Smart gave CofC the early lead, as they trailed by one or two possessions throughout the first half. Five minutes into the game a 3-pointer by Willis tied it at nine all. A long range shot by WCU's Tyler Harris gave the visitors their biggest margin (33-27) with less than four minutes to intermission. The Catamounts would head into the locker room up 38-34 at the break.
Both teams traded baskets as the second half began, with Western taking a seven point lead (47-40) with 14 minute left to play. CofC kept pace, finally regaining the lead after a 20-9 run capped off by a Jasper 3-pointer, putting Charleston up 60-56 with just over four minutes remaining.
The Catamounts answered with an 8-2 run to go up 66-62 on a layup by Mason Faulkner with 21 seconds left. A Jasper layup on the other end of the court cut the margin to two. After Faulkner made just one of two from the line, Willis stepped up for the home team draining a long three as time expired sending the game into OT at 67 all.
The Cougars went cold in the extra period, missing their first five attempts as WCU went up by five with a minute and a half to go. A jump shot by CofC's Brendan Tucker cut the lead to three, with Faulkner answering with 21 seconds to put the visitors up again by five. Willis added one of two from the line, with WCU knocking down two free throws for a six point win.
The final stats indicate a pretty even game, with both teams grabbing 35 rebounds. Coach Grant added the biggest difference came at the foul line where the Catamounts made twice as many trips to the charity stripe. "They (Western Carolina) attempted 35 free throws. In an overtime game, if you look at the whole game, it was 35 to our 17. They doubled us. That's unheard of. Haven't been a situation like that before."
Dontavius King recorded his first double double for the Cougars grabbing a game best 10 boards to go along with 14 points. A future bright spot for the Cougars is Lorenzo Edwards who hit three from beyond the arc for nine points in 15 minutes of play. WCU finished with five players in double figures, with Faulkner and Matt Halvorsen adding 14 and 13 points apiece.
The Cougars will close out non-conference play on the road at Georgia State (5-1) on Monday, Dec. 21 at 7 p.m. (ET) in Atlanta. The game will be televised on ESPN+.