ASHEVILLE, N.C — With 80 seconds left in the game and The Citadel down by 15 points, Bulldogs coach Chuck Driesell looked down his bench and motioned for P.J. Horgan to check into the game.
The horn sounded and Horgan trotted onto the court, replacing senior Mike Groselle for the final time in his career.
Groselle slowly walked to the Bulldogs bench and the handful of Citadel fans that made the four-hour trip from Charleston applauded his effort. Even a few Western Carolina fans stood out of respect for Groselle.
That’s the kind of respect Groselle had garnered over the last four years with the Bulldogs.
Western Carolina guard Trey Sumler scored a game-high 27 points and James Sinclair added 14 points to lead the Catamounts past the Citadel, 76-61, in the opening round of the Southern Conference tournament Friday night at U.S. Cellular Center.
The Catamounts (14-18) will face the College of Charleston today at 8:30 p.m., in the quarterfinals.
For Groselle it was a disappointing end to a disappointing season for the Bulldogs (8-22).
“Ever since I got here I’ve worked as hard as I can,” said Groselle, who finished with 13 points and six rebounds. “This is the best group of guys I’ve ever played with. They’ve worked incredibly hard and we’ve fought all season. We might not have won many games, but we never gave up. We came here to win the tournament, win a game, and it hurts right now that we didn’t get it done.”
Driesell said the departure of Groselle brings an end of era for Citadel basketball.
“It’s always a tough time at the end of a season when seniors depart,” Driesell said. “Mike is an emotional young man and he wears his emotions on his sleeve. He plays that way. He really wanted to go out winning a championship. He’s disappointed and so is the rest of the team.”
Early on it looked like the Bulldogs would get out of the first round. Matt Van Scoyc connected on a couple of 3-pointers as The Citadel led 12-5 just five minutes into the game.
“We got off to a great shot,” Van Scoyc said.
But Van Scoyc, who finished with 13 points, picked up his third foul midway through the first half. That wouldn’t have been so bad, but his replacement, Dylen Setzekorn, also was whistled for three fouls in the first half, leaving the Bulldogs with no depth at the small forward position.
“The foul trouble hurt us,” Driesell said. “We had guys playing out of position.”
With the Bulldogs in foul trouble. Sumler took over the game. Sumler was 10 of 15 from the floor, including three of seven from 3-point range.
“Trey is a great player, a great scorer,” Van Scyoc said. “He shot the ball really well.”
The Catamounts, who led 34-25 at halftime, were up 44-30 early in the second half, but the Bulldogs went on a 7-0 and pulled to within, 44-37, on Raemond Robinson’s 3-pointer with 14:54 to play.
But a basket from Sinclair, a putback a short jumper from Brandon Boggs and a 3-pointer from Sumler and the Catamounts were back up by 50-37 with 12:34 to play.
The Citadel got within eight points on Horgan’s putback with 8:18 to play, but that would be as close as the Bulldogs were get the rest of the way.