By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
BOONE, N.C. — Kenneth Kluth chose to spend his 93rd birthday watching the final Southern Conference, regular-season, men’s basketball game between arch-rivals Appalachian State and Western Carolina Thursday night at the Holmes Convocation Center.
And Kluth actually survived the experience as Western Carolina held on for a wire-to-wire, 74-61 win over the Sun Belt-bound Mountaineers on senior night for ASU.
If the 184th meeting between the Catamounts and Mountaineers was the final one for awhile, it ended with a whimper rather than the adrenaline that has been frequent of a series that began in 1927 and is the most-played rivalry in history for both schools.
Kluth witnessed the Mountaineers go more than six minutes before they scored a point and watched App State sink just 16-of-33 foul shots and 1-of-11 three-point attempts in an offensive performance that bordered on brutal, particularly in the first half.
Survival probably won’t be the fate of fourth-year ASU coach and former North Carolina star Jason Capel, whose Mountaineer team fell to 8-17 overall and 4-8 in the SoCon.
In the final year of his contract, Capel hasn’t found much of the magic he once experienced as a player in Chapel Hill.
He has managed one winning season (16-15 in his first season of 2010-11) and, at a time when his recruits should be taking center stage, the Mountaineers looked more like a program staggering towards rock bottom than one that is showing signs of improvement.
“That was as embarrassing of a showing as I may have seen in a long time,” said Capel, who career mark at ASU fell to 52-67 as a head coach. “I don’t know if it was all of the pre-game stuff, or what. Mentally, we weren’t dialed in.”
Western Carolina’s play wasn’t much better for much of the night. Even with App State’s long offensive drought in the first half, the Catamounts struggled to just a 9-0 advantage and allowed the Mountaineers to hang in the game until the clutch shooting of Tom Tankelewicz allowed WCU to pull away in the final five minutes.
Tankelewicz had a trey, a medium-range jumper and a slam dunk off a Catamount steal in a three-minute, eight-second stretch as he finished 6-of-8 from the field and 4-of-5 from three-point range for 16 points.
James Sinclair had a team-high 17 points and seven rebounds and Brandon Boggs added 14 points and six assists for WCU, which improved to 16-12 overall and 9-4 in conference.
The Catamounts, currently sitting in fifth place in the SoCon standings, clinched one of the six first-round byes for the oldest conference tournament in college basketball, which will be held March 7-10 in Asheville, N.C.
It also improved WCU’s all-time record against Appalachian State to 66-108 overall and 28-46 in SoCon meetings. Maybe, we will be lucky enough to get one more ASU-WCU game in the conference tournament.
“It’s sad to see this series end,” said Western Carolina’s radio color analyst and retired sports information director Steve White, whose has witnessed most of those 74 conference clashes. “App State sponsored us to come into the SoCon and it has been a great rivalry.”
The Mountaineers, meanwhile, sit ninth in the 11-team league and would probably need a miracle run in that tournament to save Capel’s job.
Appalachian State received a strong performance from senior forward Tommy Spagnolo, who hit 7-of-7 field goals to finish with game-highs of 18 points and 11 rebounds against a Catamount squad that needed overtime to win just 12 days ago, 84-75, in Cullowhee, N.C.
Jay Canty, who had his early season derailed by a broken hand, came off the bench to spark the Mountaineers with nine points in the second half.
But the work from the free-throw line and the three-point arc proved to be ASU’s undoing.
“When you miss 17 free throws and are 1-of-11 on threes, it’s tough to win,” said Capel. “If you miss 17 free throws, I don’t care if you are playing on the Watauga High outdoor courts, you aren’t going to win many games.”