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  • Daniel Hooker

Woolbright’s Triple-Dip Headlines Total Team Effort in Win

Cullowhee, N.C. – Russell Jones Jr. led five Catamounts in double figures with a team-best 20 points and Vonterius Woolbright collected his NCAA-best fourth triple-double of the season as Western Carolina used a strong second-half effort to secure the regular-season split with chromatic rival Furman, shooting past the Paladins 85-77 on Wednesday night in Southern Conference action on Ingles Court at the Ramsey Center.


WCU earned home win No. 12 on the year to match the second-most home victories in the Ramsey Center, avenging the last-second, three-point loss in Greenville, S.C., 65-62, back in late January. It also represents the second consecutive series win for the Catamounts in Cullowhee over the past two years.


Jones Jr. scored 16 of his 20 points in the second half while classmate Woolbright finished with 15 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 assists to record his 25th double-double effort coming on his fourth triple-dip of the year – and the fifth of his WCU career. Woolbright currently leads the NCAA with 25 double-doubles including four triple-doubles, the most by anyone in the nation to date.


DJ Campbell came off the bench for the first time this season and scored a dozen while Bernard Pelote scored all 11 of his points in the second half to highlight 33 bench points for the Catamounts. Tre Jackson rounded out WCU’s double-digit scorers, chipping in 10 points including six from the free throw line. Kamar Robertson added seven points as the graduate transfer made his first start in a Catamount uniform on Wednesday.


Hero of the first meeting for Furman with the game-winning 3-pointer, JP Pegues was again key for the Paladins on Wednesday as he poured in a game-high 35 points including six made 3-pointers, adding five assists, four rebounds, and a pair of steals. Pegues went over 1,000 career points on Wednesday night. Ben VanderWal was the only other Paladin in double figures, finishing with 10 points including a pair of 3-pointers.


Western Carolina (21-9, 10-7 SoCon) broke open a one-point affair in the first half with a 13-to-3 run, transforming a 10-9 lead into a half-high 11-point cushion at 23-12 on a Robertson 3-pointer. With WCU holding a 28-19 lead, Furman scored eight of the next nine points to tie the game at 29 apiece before surging in front on a pair of Cooper Bowser free throws. All told the Paladins closed the half on a 13-to-2 spurt to carry a 32-30 lead into the halftime locker room.


The Catamounts led for nearly 15 of the opening 20 minutes, shooting 48 percent from the field.


Furman (16-14, 10-7 SoCon) scored nine of the first 13 points of the second half on a trio of 3-pointers to take an eight-point lead before eventually pulling ahead by its game-high nine on yet another Pegues triple to lead 46-37 just four minutes after the break. WCU managed to trim the deficit back to one possession on a trio of Jackson free throws, but Furman again stretched the margin to nine, 57-48, around the 12-minute mark.


Spurred by the Ramsey Center crowd, the Catamounts then managed to score the next nine unanswered points to erase the deficit with Pelote converting a fast-break slam and drilling a game-tying 3-pointer for five of the nine points in the spurt, knotting the game at 57 with nine minutes to play.


Corneilous Williams evened the game at 59 with a two-hand slam and later dropped in a deuce to make things all square at 61 at the 7:10 mark. Williams then converted one of two free throws to give the Catamounts the lead at 62-61 for what proved to be for good. WCU embarked on a game-sealing 17-to-5 run to grab a 12-point cushion with two minutes to play. The Catamounts then connected on all eight free throws inside the final minute including six by Jones Jr. to secure the victory in the home finale.


The Catamounts shot 54.5 percent from the floor against Furman while limiting the Paladins to 41 percent on the defensive end. The home squad also recovered to win the battle of the boards, 35-to-33. WCU won for just the third time in nine games this season in which it trailed at halftime – and won for just the second in seven tries in league play when it hit the locker room behind on the scoreboard.


Western Carolina wraps up the 2023-24 regular season on Saturday, March 2, as the Catamounts travel to Chattanooga, Tenn., to face the Mocs who are tied for second in the SoCon standings. UTC (20-10, 12-5 SoCon) shot 60 percent from the floor in the second half as the Mocs rallied from a 10-point first-half deficit to survive its trip to Cullowhee, 91-85, back on Jan. 31. Woolbright scored a career-high 36 points in the first meeting with the Mocs.


Tip-off from the McKenzie Arena is scheduled for 2 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN+ (paid subscription required) with coverage from the Catamount Sports Network beginning at 1:30 p.m.

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