Pisgah takes down McDowell in overtime at battle of conferences

Jan. 1—CULLOWHEE — The Pisgah Bears upended the previously undefeated McDowell Titans 87-82, but it took overtime to do it on Saturday at Western Carolina University's Ramsey Center.

The "Catamount Clash of the Conferences" pitted all Mountain 7 Conference teams against the Mountain Athletic Conference and gave the two conferences a chance to play at the Ramsey Center, where the Catamounts play basketball.

"I was extremely happy that our guys were able to experience stuff like that. Not every player gets to do that," said Pisgah head coach Jonathan Whitson. "WCU treated it like a college atmosphere and a college game. That will grow the team and give them lasting memories."

The 6-1 Bears drew the 7-0 Titans, whom Jonathan Whitson said many had predicted to win the MAC.

"I talked to some of the MAC coaches, and some of them had picked them to win their league. It was a good opportunity for us," he said.

Pisgah had been undefeated before an 83-76 loss to Enka only four days prior.

"We want to get back on track, get back to winning and didn't want to do two in a row. We knew it would be a tall task going in Saturday night," Whitson said.

The task did seem too tall for the Bears in the game's opening frame, as the Titans outscored Pisgah 26-15 behind strong shooting from junior Rylan Parkins, who led the game with 29 points.

But Pisgah wasn't done yet. The Bears rallied behind a trio of threes from junior Dominick Messer, who ended the night with 25 points.

"We got down about 10-12 in the first, and we were trying to run different defenses. Then we came out in the second quarter, and he hit three or four threes that really sparked us," Whitson said. "That's what he does. We bring him in and spark us wherever we need. We have that confidence in him. Through 8 games, he's been a huge asset in accomplishing our goals."

Pisgah outscored McDowell 30-14 in the second quarter to make it a 45-40 game at the break.

The Bears outscored the Titans 18-12 in the third, but McDowell rallied back to outscore Pisgah 24-13 in the final frame to force overtime.

The Bears hadn't been in overtime since a 69-65 loss to West Henderson in 2021. Whitson said the team views it as a normal quarter.

"We didn't treat it bigger than it was," he said. "You don't want to make a moment bigger than what it is. You don't want to put that pressure on them, and they do stuff that's out of character."

Thanks to solid defense and critical shots falling, the Bears outscored the Titans 11-6 to take the game.

Messer finished with a team-high 25 points, followed by junior Sawyer Belue with 19 and junior Aaron Clark with 13. Pisgah went 19 of 26 from the free-throw line, too.

The team's top passer was junior Jake Lowery, who led the team with 10 assists.

"He's so good at driving and finding guys," Whitson said of Lowery. "I was so impressed with that."

Whitson also praised Lowery's defensive effort.

"I feel like he set the tone after the first quarter and caused problems for their guards. He got them out of their comfort zone," he said. "He was able to carry that over to the offensive side."

Pisgah played in a Christmas tournament over break at Cherokee High School. The Bears (7-1, 1-0 in Mountain 7) opened against Mount Tabor (4-3) on Wednesday, Dec. 27.

"We have a hard task tomorrow against Mount Tabor, but I think our guys are up for the challenge. Obviously, we go into any game or, in this case, the tournament and want to be victorious, but you have to take it one game, one play at a time, to get to that ultimate goal," Whitson said. "We have to stay humble and hungry and try to get better every time we step in the gym."