Western Carolina lost by six against Alabama, 80-74, on Monday night in Tuscaloosa. The Catamounts were ahead 67-61 with just over six minutes to play, but could not hold on.
A tremendous effort by James Sinclair in the second half went to waste for the Catamounts. Sinclair scored 31 for the game, and could not miss for long stretches of the second half. He was on fire.
But Kenneth Hall fouled out in just a few minutes of action. With 28 team fouls, Western Carolina sent Alabama to the free throw line 42 times, and the Tide made 32 of them. Western Carolina just shot 22 free throws and made just 15. That was the difference in the game.
Alabama was bigger than Western Carolina and pounded the ball inside. The Catamounts got called for a lot of fouls and some were more touch fouls than others. Regardless, the Tide got to the free throw line and, to their credit, made their shots.
The truth is that Western Carolina, through two SEC road games, looks like they might just be a legitimate contender in the SoCon. With the loss of 5000 points from last year's team, it was widely thought that the Catamounts were going to struggle this year. With the way Sinclair played tonight, the smooth shot of Rhett Harrelson and the way freshman Tucker Thompson performed, there is real hope in Cullowhee that the Catamounts might be able to get that elusive NCAA Tournament bid.
Teams in the SoCon with good big men may be able to exploit some of the Catamounts interior issues, but, on the whole, while this game was a loss on the scoreboard, fans of Western Carolina should come away feeling some encouragement.