HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — The Cleveland Browns have been haunted by “The Drive.” The Western Carolina Catamounts will have their own heartbreaking play that will be “The Call.”
Damier Pitts made two free throws with five-tenths of a second to play that lifted the Marshall Thundering Herd to a 90-88 win over the Western Carolina Catamounts Tuesday in the first round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament at the Henderson Center.
The free throws were the result of a technical foul on Harouna Mutombo for calling a timeout that the Catamounts didn’t have. Mutombo knocked the ball away from the Herd’s Tyler Wilkerson and a scramble ensued on the floor.
Mutombo grabbed the ball with time running out and then called a timeout the Catamounts didn’t have.
One official waved the play off to signal overtime, but the officials decided to view the replay monitor and determined there was a half-second on the clock when the timeout was called.
Pitts — who was 15-of-16 from the line as he scored 24 points — hit the two shots to give Marshall a second round game at home next Monday.
“We were fortunate with the call. I’d hate to lose a game like that. You hate to win a game like that,” said Marshall coach Donnie Jones.
“I give credit to the officials to make a gutsy call. It was the right call. It happened right in front of our bench.”
Western Carolina coach Larry Hunter was proud of his team’s effort and took the outcome in stride.
“Playing in the postseason is a reward for a good year,” said WCU coach Larry Hunter. “It wasn’t a great year, but a good year. Same as Marshall.”
WCU took its biggest lead with 13:53 left at 52-48, but then Jones went to a smaller lineup that rallied the Herd as Pitts, Chris Lutz, Darryl Merthie, Antonio Haymon and Tirrell Baines helped Marshall to a 70-60 lead with 5:58 left.
Marshall’s 7-foot freshman center Hassan Whiteside — who had five blocked shots to give him 179 on the season — left with 13:47 to play due to his lackluster play and did not return.
Jones was unhappy with his team’s lethargic effort.
“We were not playing with any energy. I was just trying to find five guys who would play. If I had to put (6-foot) Darryl Merthie at center, I would have,” said Jones.
The game was tied 37-37 at the half before Western Carolina trailed by as many as 12 points late in the game.
Jake Robinson brought the Catamounts back with four baskets from the 3-point range in the game’s final 3:46, but Robinson’s trey attempt with 16 seconds left rattled the rim and bounced high above the backboard and out of bounds.
But Brandon Giles came up with a steal and buried a trifecta with six seconds left to tie the gameand set up the controversial finish.
“We had a motto this season to never quit,” said WCU senior point guard Brigham Waginger who played at Ironton and South Webster.
“We kept battling. We ran our offensive sets to perfection and Jake hit some big shots. We just got a bad break at the end.”
Free throws were a key in the outcome. Marshall was 34-of-48 while WCU was only 9-of-12. The Catamounts were whistled for 29 fouls to only 12 for the Herd.
Robinson finished with 21 points for Western Carolina (22-12) to lead five players in double figures. Waginger had five points, six assists and a steal in his final college game.
Waginger helped create the crowd of 5,003 watching the game thanks to several hundred Ironton fans scattered throughout the arena who came to watch their native son.
“It was a great atmosphere. It was special to be 15 minutes from home and see a lot of family and friends here,” said Waginger.
“It’s been a great four years and I just want to thank the people for supporting me.”