By Carey Phillips
Western Carolina moved into sole possession of first place in the Southern Conference men’s basketball standings Saturday with a 79-71 win over Mercer before 2,296 fans in the Ramsey Center.
Mason Faulkner led the Catamounts (12-3, 4-0) with 18 points. Matt Halvorsen added 16, and Carlos Dotson had 12.
It’s the best conference start since opening 4-0 in the 2012-13 season.
Djordje Dmitrijevic poured in 34 points for the Bears, who remained winless in four league games.
WCU took the lead for good at 6-4 on Halvorsen’s three-pointer three minutes into the game.
Mercer was within 31-30 on Daniel Love’s layup at the 1:24 mark.
Xavier Cork’s follow shot and Onno Steger’s three-pointer in the final minute sent Western to the locker room up 36-30.
Steger opened the second half with a three-pointer for a 39-30 advantage at the 19:43 mark.
His basket with 11:07 on the clock made it 54-44.
The game’s largest lead was 61-50 on Halvorsen’s two foul shots with 7:38 to play.
Mercer cut the gap to 75-71 on Dmitrijevic’s short jumper with 16 seconds to go.
Faulkner hit four of four free throws in the closing seconds to seal the win.
WCU made 43.1 percent of its field goal tries, while the Bears hit 38.1 percent.
Cork’s eight rebounds helped the Cats to a 38-35 edge in the boards. Maciej Bender led Mercer with 13.
Western committed 16 turnovers, and the Bears had 12.
The difference in the game was from long range as the Cats hit nine of 18 three-pointers, while the Bears were two of 19.
Completing the WCU scoring were Steger and Cork with eight apiece, Marcus Thomas with five, Tyler Harris with four, Kameron Gibson and Travion McCray both with three, and Adam Sledd with two.