SALISBURY — Catawba senior Taylor May doesn’t have a basketball game or a practice or a workout to look forward to for the first time in memory.
“When I wake up tomorrow, it’ll be the first time in 10 years that I won’t have basketball in my life,” said May, who starred at South Rowan. “It’s going to be a weird feeling and it’s just kind of hard to swallow right now.”
Wednesday’s first-round SAC tournament game against Tusculum was just supposed to be May’s final home game, not her last game period, but a good season ended badly for Catawba’s women.
The third-seeded Indians lost 53-47 to No. 6 seed Tusculum, so Catawba (16-11) will pack up uniforms instead of traveling to Greenville, S.C., for the tournament semifinals.
Tusculum (15-12) advances to play No. 2 seed Lenoir-Rhyne, a 59-57 first-round winner over Wingate.
Catawba had whipped Tusculum twice, but Wednesday’s setback was a perfect storm. The Indians didn’t get very good shots against Tusculum’s tenacious man-to-man defense, didn’t finish when they did get in the paint, couldn’t get to the foul line in a game that was virtually whistle-less, and couldn’t get an offensive rebound.
Tusculum beat the Indians 16-4 on second-chance points, and that was the biggest stat. With 5-foot-8 April McCann somehow getting 18 rebounds, the scrappy Pioneers won the board battle 59-43.
“We let them get too many rebounds and we didn’t get enough,” May summed up.
Both teams shot 28.8 percent for the game.
“We took quick shots and shoulda worked the ball around more,” May said. “Everyone was sort of anxious, and maybe everyone tried to do too much.”
Catawba trailed most of the way and was down nine when senior Quaneasia Coleman made her only bucket as she fell to the floor with 10:50 remaining.That play gave the Indians a spark and they quickly got right back in the game with furious defense by Coleman, a three-point play by May, and two 3s by Chloe Bully, a terrific shooter who struggled through a 7-for-24 night to score 17.
It was 45-all late in regulation, and Bully had the matchup she wanted against Tusculum guard Kendal Baxter.
She got by Baxter with a crossover and a spin move, but her driving layup just didn’t fall. That meant overtime.
Catawba shot 0-for-8 in the extra period, and when Baxter threw in a 24-foot dagger with 58 seconds left, the visitors owned a five-point lead and were headed for victory.
Antionette McPhail, Bully, Merritt and Coleman all had pointblank looks late, but nothing fell.
“I thought that Chloe’s shot was going in at the end of regulation, and I just hate it ended like this,” Catawba coach Angie Morton said. “This team wasn’t predicted to do much, but they really played well late to get third place. We got great leadership from our seniors (May, Coleman and Elizabeth Merritt). It was just a very good group of girls, and they can be proud of what they accomplished.”
Coleman had 11 rebounds, four assists and three steals. Merritt had nine points and seven boards. May had seven points and five rebounds. Coleman played 37 minutes. May played 41, while Merritt played 44 of 45.
May, drained emotionally, shook her head at the way it ended.
“We played really good games the last few weeks,” she said. “We were clicking and felt like we could beat anyone. Even tonight, as bad as we shot, we believed we’d pull it out.”
They didn’t, and May’s career ends.
“Taylor played behind an All-American (Dana Hicks) for three years, but she never had one bad practice,” Morton said. “Then when she had her chance, she was just outstanding. She had an outstanding year.”
TUSCULUM (53) — McCann 15, Barksdale 15, Baxter 10, Thurman 6, Anderson 3, Burleson 2, McMillion 2, Whitener.
CATAWBA (47) — Bully 17, Merritt 9, May 7, Clay 6, McPhail 4, Coleman 4, Dixon, Ucinksi, Whitby.
Tusculum 20 25 8 — 53
Catawba 19 26 2 — 47