ASHEVILLE, N.C. - Four players scored in double figures including a career-high 18 points from junior small forward Anthony Thomas (Winston-Salem, N.C.) to lead third-seeded College of Charleston to a 78-70 victory over sixth-seeded Western Carolina in the quarterfinals of the 2013 Southern Conference Tournament on Saturday night at the U.S. Cellular Center.
The Cougars (23-9) advance and will take on second-seeded Elon (21-10) tomorrow in the second of two semifinals at 8:30 p.m. (ET). The game will be carried nationally on ESPN3/WatchESPN.com.
Thomas, who was playing in his first SoCon Tournament game after spending his freshman year at Appalachian State in 2010-11 without seeing action in postseason play, registered nine of his career high points in the first half as CofC went on a 13-4 game-opening run.
The Catamounts (14-19) shot 29 percent from the floor in the first half, but still found ways to counter the Cougars' offensive scoring attack ignited by Thomas. A three-pointer by Rhett Harrelson tied the ballgame at 13-all and a layup by Trey Sumler gave Western Carolina its first lead of the contest, 15-13, at 8:51.
WCU would lead by as many as five on a three-pointer by James Sinclair, 23-19, but it was short-lived as Thomas scored on a tip-in and made two free throws to close the gap to one, 24-23, at the 4:57 minute mark. A three-pointer by redshirt junior Willis Hall (Charlotte, N.C.) gave the Cougars back the lead, 26-24, but WCU's Tawaski King countered with a bucket at the other end to tie up the game again at 26-all with 2:52 left in the half.
CofC took a 31-28 lead into the locker room at halftime and shot a much-improved second half with a 57.1 percent accuracy from the floor. The Cougars never looked back and led by as many as 16 points twice on a layup by junior forward Trent Wiedeman (Suwanee, Ga.) at the 3:41 minute mark and a free throw shot by sophomore guard Anthony Stitt (Charlotte, N.C.), 75-59, with 1:13 remaining.
Sophomore big man Adjehi Baru (Abidjan, Ivory Coast) recorded his eighth double-double of the season with 14 points and a game-high 13 rebounds, while senior guard Andrew Lawrence (London, England) added 16 and Stitt 11 to the winning cause.
For the game, the Cougars made 29-of-35 free throw attempts - their second-best percentage of the season (82.9%). In the loss, Western Carolina was paced by leading scorer Trey Sumler, who scored a game-high 25 points.
For the 26th time this season, CofC used the starting lineup of sophomore Anthony Stitt, senior Andrew Lawrence, junior Anthony Thomas, redshirt junior Willis Hall and sophomore forward Adjehi Baru (21-5).
With the win, the Cougars improve to 19-7 in the all-time series versus Western Carolina including an undefeated 3-0 record when both teams have met in the Southern Conference Tournament.
CofC claimed its 20th all-time victory in SoCon Tournament play and is now 10-4 all-time in quarterfinal games since joining the league in 1998-99. It marked the first SoCon Tournament win for first-year head coach Doug Wojcik.
Anthony Thomas registered a career-high 18 points against Western Carolina and also added eight points and two steals to the winning cause in his first SoCon Tournament appearance after playing his freshman season at Appalachian State. It marked his 12th double-figure scoring game of the season.
Adjehi Baru recorded his eight double-double of the season, ninth of his career, with 14 points and a game-high 13 rebounds versus Western Carolina.
Anthony Stitt dished out three assists in the ballgame to turn in his first career 100+ assist season (102). It marked the first time CofC had two players with 100 assists each in a single season since Andrew Goudelock (131) and Tony White, Jr. (106) did so in 2009-10.
CofC shot 82.9 percent from the free throw line (29-of-35) which was its second-best performance from the charity stripe this season behind a 86.7 free-throw shooting percentage at Charleston Southern on Nov. 28, 2012.
Andrew Lawrence shot a career-best 12-of-14 from the free throw line against Western Carolina and ended the night with 16 points. He currently has tabulated 1,167 career points to date which ranks 26th all-time in the CofC record books. Lawrence is five points away from breaking into the top 25.
College of Charleston Head Coach Doug Wojcik
On the win
"You have to give them (Western Carolina) credit for playing hard. We had 10 turnovers in the first half, but we did a good job of handing the ball until the last two minutes of the game. This (Western Carolina) team is a better team than Furman. They have a guy who can score anytime (in Trey Sumler). The biggest concern for us was that we were ready for them and knew their personnel and what they would run. Do you shoot the ball well after a seven-day layoff? Our guys did a great job of that tonight. Our two guards (Andrew Lawrence and Anthony Stitt) did a good job of controlling the game. Of course, I thought Anthony Thomas played really well and Trent Wiedeman got a huge bucket for us out of that timeout (in the second half)."
College of Charleston Junior Small Forward Anthony Thomas
On coming out hot to start the first half
"I think we had a little bit of tournament jitters. We were playing out here on a new court on a big stage. But, we adjusted tonight."