By Bob Flynn
Register Sports Writer
Senior Mike DiNunno hit a driving layup with 2.3 seconds to go to give the Colonels a come-from-behind win over Western Carolina Saturday and push their win streak to seven in a row to begin the season.
DiNunno’s heroics came after a furious last three and a half minutes of the game in which EKU’s swarming, trapping zone defense forced four consecutive Western Carolina turnovers and the Colonels (7-0) erased a 68-62 Catamount lead.
After Glenn Cosey hit two free throws to cut the lead to four, DiNunno forced a five-second call on Western’s Trey Sumler. Corey Walden then hit a driving layup to cut it to two.
On the Catamounts’ next possession, Jeff Johnson came up with a ball knocked loose by Corey Walden and threw a length-of-the-court pass to a streaking Glenn Cosey for a layup that tied the game at 68.
Cosey drained another basket with 47 seconds left to give the Colonels their first lead since the early minutes of the game.
James Sinclair tied it up at 70 with just under 20 seconds to go to set up DiNunno for the game-winner.
“I know we were in a similar situation a couple of games ago and I missed that fadeaway at the elbow and coach told me he would rather I had gone to the rim,” DiNunno said. “So with about six to go I just took off and beat my man. I was looking for help and everybody was glued so I just went in and made the layup.”
Things didn’t look very promising for the Colonels in the first half as the Catamounts out-muscled them on the offensive backboard and repeatedly beat them down court, scoring 16 points in transition to build a 43-32 halftime lead.
The Colonels made some adjustments at the half and eliminated the easy run-out baskets, but they continued to get manhandled by Western’s Tawaski King inside until they switched to a zone defense the last six minutes of the game, which coach Jeff Neubauer said was the difference in the game.
“I really did like our improved toughness in the second half. I feel like Western Carolina came in here to our building and was significantly more physical than we were. They were tougher in the post and tougher on the glass ... which was a bit frustrating,” Neubauer said. “We played some zone there in the last six minutes of the game and that was just enough to change the rhythm of the game. Our guys stayed with it. They didn’t panic and we didn't try to hit any 12-point shots. It was just one position at a time, we stayed with it, stayed with it.”
The Colonels cut the Catamounts’ double-digit leads down to four points on five occasions, but could never get any closer until the final four minutes.
Johnson said the comeback was something that would help the team down the road.
“We haven't been tested a whole lot this year and being down the way were, 11 at the half, just being able to battle back so many times and never going away is a reflection of our character,” Johnson said. “We have a lot of guys who are going to keep playing until the last buzzer goes off. I think this is going to give us confidence when we go on the road and whoever we play, we think we are always in it.”
Four Colonels finished in double figures, led by Cosey with 15 points and four rebounds. DiNunno added 14 points and seven assists, while Walden chipped in with 11 points and six rebounds and Jeff Johnson scored 10 points.
EKU shot a season-high 54 percent from the field and 28.6 percent from behind the arc. The Colonels were outrebounded by the Catamounts 35-25.
King led the Catamounts with a game-high 18 points and pulled down eight rebounds. James Sinclair had 10 points, while Mike Brown added 11.
Western Carolina shot 42.9 percent from the field and 29.2 percent from the three-point line. The Colonels forced Western into 13 turnovers.
After seven straight home games to start the season, the Colonels hit the road for the first time Tuesday when they take on North Carolina Central in Durham. Game time is 7 p.m.
By Bob Flynn
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