W Carolina lost 93-91 in 2OT to Davidson
By STEVE REED
ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) Sensing his team was exhausted and at its breaking point, Western Carolina coach Larry Hunter went for the knockout punch in double overtime.
And the Catamounts almost landed it.
Down by two points, Hunter put the ball in the hands of his best shooter, Keaton Cole, and told him to get open from 3-point range and let it fly.
Cole did - and just missed.
As the ball bounced away, so did the Catamounts' hopes of landing their first NCAA tournament berth since 1996.
"I told the guys in the last timeout that I didn't think we had a third overtime in us," Hunter said. "I said that we were going to go for the win. We got our best shooter a really good look and it just didn't go."
Clint Mann's dunk with 1:04 left in double-overtime turned out to be the final points in a wild game as Davidson outlasted Western Carolina 93-91 to win the Southern Conference championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament Monday night.
"We did a terrific job of creating a lane for Clint," Wildcats coach Bob McKillop said of the winning shot. "We tell them they're unleashed, they're freed up and to take what's there. But you must see the game. He saw the open lane and we had sealed inside and Clint went inside and threw it home like a man."
Neither team scored in the final minute of double overtime, although both had chances.
JP Kuhlman and De'Mon Brooks, the tournament's most outstanding player, each scored 19 points to lead the top-seeded Wildcats (26-7).
Western Carolina was led by Cole's 21 points. Tawaski King and Harouna Mutombo had 20 points each for the Catamounts (17-18). Trey Sumler had 18 points, including two clutch 3-pointers near the end of regulation to help send the game into overtime.
The Catamounts left the floor emotionally and physically drained, but knowing they gave it their best shot.
"Guys just kept fighting," Sumler said. "We were cramping up trying to get juice in us and using all our timeouts we could. We kept fighting out there but came up a little short."
Davidson, the tournament's top seed after finishing 14-2 in the regular season - four games better than the nearest opponent - came in as a heavy favorite.
But Western Carolina didn't play like a .500 team.
"It wasn't about fatigue out there tonight," Mutombo said. "Guys had adrenaline rushing through them. We knew it was going to be a tough one and some guys bodies reached badly, but mentally and in our heart we didn't give up. That was the key."
Davidson had a chance to win the game at the end of regulation and again in the first overtime, but couldn't get shots to fall.
Davidson led by 13 points with 2:47 left in regulation but the Catamounts mounted a furious comeback behind a pair of 3-pointers by Trey Sumler.
Then Davidson made the mistake of fouling Cole as he was attempting a 3-pointer with 11 seconds left in the game. Cole made all three shots.
Davidson's Nik Cochran's driving layup was slapped away at the end of regulation and the game went to overtime.
In the first overtime Davidson had an even better chance to win as Brooks' turnaround jump shot in the lane at the buzzer hit the rim softly three times before bouncing away, sending the game into double overtime.
"I thought it was in," Brooks said. "I was ready to run down the court, but it just came out. We had to keep on playing. That shows the character of our team."
It is Davidson's first NCAA berth since 2008 when a boyish-looking shooter named Stephen Curry led the Wildcats on a magical run to the regional championships where they lost to eventual national champion Kansas.
Now the Wildcats are back.
They may not have an NBA lottery pick this year, but they do have is a balanced scoring attack that features five starters who average in double figures.
Jake Cohen scored 17 points before fouling out in the second overtime and Cochran added 16. Mann had 10 points off the bench, including the monster dunk.
"Western didn't back down, they kept coming after us and we just couldn't pull away," Cohen said. "It's a testament to these guys in our locker room that we didn't get down when they made those big shots. We stayed positive and kept attacking them back and it paid off down the stretch."
Western Carolina went 8-10 in the conference during the season but played like an inspired team.
"There were probably some breakdowns in execution, but what a whale of a ballgame in terms of heart and competitive effort on both teams," Hunter said. "Congratulations to Davidson. They are a really nice club and so well coached. They really did what they had to do."
Updated March 6, 2012