ASHEVILLE, N.C. (UNCW release) - Western Carolina broke open a close game with 64.7 percent shooting in the second half to cruise past UNCW, 98-76, in the season opener for both teams on Wednesday at UNC Asheville’s Kimmel Arena.
After taking a brief break for the Thanksgiving holiday, the Seahawks play the second leg of a three-game stay in Asheville on Friday by playing the host Bulldogs at 3:30 p.m. in the Mako Medical Asheville Classic. UNCW wraps up its season-opening road trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains on Saturday with a 1 p.m. start vs. Sun Belt Conference foe Troy.
In Wednesday’s debut under new head coach Takayo Siddle, the Seahawks trailed by four points at halftime before the Catamounts pulled away down the stretch with torrid shooting for the 22-point decision.
“They didn’t fall for us tonight,” said Siddle, who took over the program last March. “I thought we had some good looks. I thought we missed some guys. We got to the paint and we left so many shots on the rim. We just have to concentrate, keep our eyes on the rim and finish those easy shots around the rim.
“We don’t have much time to think about this. We have to bring the same energy, correct the mistakes and get ready to play a good UNC Asheville team on Friday.”
WCU used a balanced attack to overshadow a career night by Seahawk junior guard Jaylen Sims, who finished with 27 points on 5-of-12 from the floor and 13-of-18 at the charity stripe. Sophomore guard Jake Boggs contributed 17 points and senior guard Ty Gadsden finished with 13. UNCW shot 37.1 percent on the night.
Siddle said, “Jaylen was really aggressive and played really hard. He was aggressive touching the paint and played like he really wanted to win the game.”
Three players combined for 63 points for the Catamounts, who shot 46.7 percent in the first half before catching fire after the break. Sophomore forward Xavier Cork paved the way with 22 points, All-SoCon point guard Mason Faulkner collected 21 points, eight rebounds and three assists and senior guard Matt Halverson added 20 points. Sophomore guard Travion McCray gave WCU four in double digits with 11 points.
Battling for the first time in 23 years, the two clubs traded buckets early before the Seahawks grabbed an 18-17 edge on a Sims bucket midway through the opening period. The Catamounts, however, rallied to take control midway through the period and poured it on in the final 20 minutes. WCU’s largest lead of the contest came with 5:16 remaining when Halverson raced in for a layup as the lead swelled to 80-55.