College basketball: Catawba 93, Tusculum 89
SALISBURY — Basketball teams aren’t built in a day, but Catawba may have at least laid the foundation for a pretty good one with Saturday’s 93-89 overtime win against Tusculum.
A first half in which Catawba shot 33 percent, had only two assists, allowed 13 offensive rebounds and dug a 10-point hole wasn’t fit viewing for small children, but the Indians rode 28 points by Kijaun Arrington to a dramatic SAC victory.
Vismantas Marijosius, Tyrece Little, Chance Rucker and Elon Edwards also played key roles down the stretch for the Indians (2-6, 2-3). It’s early to talk about must-wins, but the reality is that this may have been one. Catawba couldn’t afford to lose at home to the Pioneers (1-10, 0-6) if it’s going to be any sort of factor in a strong league.
“We just finished exams, so we haven’t screamed and yelled much and haven’t pushed them as hard as usual in practice,” Catawba coach Jim Baker explained. “We had a small crowd because of the weather, and then we just couldn’t find any kind of spark in the first half.”
Catawba got down 13-2, recovered briefly, but then slid back downhhill again to trail 42-32 at the break. Darius Carter, who scored 16 for Tusculum, had 12 points in the first half. Jalen Walker scored 13 of his 20 for the Pioneers in the second half.
Marijosius, a 6-foot-6 Lithuanian who played his senior high school season locally at North Hills, is competing with a mask to protect a broken nose. He gets playing time mostly because of his aggressive defense, but with Catawba still down seven with eight minutes left, he drilled a straight-on 3-pointer to cut a Tusculum lead that had been as much as 14 down to 65-61.
“I was open, I knew my teammates trusted me to take that shot, and it went in,” Marijosius said. “That shot helped us get started toward the victory.”
Fifty-two seconds later, Marijosius offered an instant replay, just to prove the first one was no fluke. His second 3-pointer cut Catawba’s deficit to 67-66, and while the crowd wasn’t big, what there was of it was buzzing.
With 3:04 left, Catawba trailed 76-72 when Marijosius faked a 3, drove right down the lane and dunked over several Pioneers.
“When I faced up, they expected me to shoot the 3, but I was able to make a move,” Marijosius said.
Marijosius only scored 10 points, but eight were critical.
“Catawba had kids step up and make big, important shots, and if 44 doesn’t make those back-to-back 3s, it’s a very different game,” Tusculum coach Michael Jones said. “We played with great effort today, so if he misses those shots, I think we win.”
When Arrington, a 6-5 sophomore, faked a jumper and powered in a layup with 1:04 left in regulation, it was 76-all, and Catawba was even for the first time since it was 2-2.
Arrington had a contested jump shot for the win at the end of regulation, but he missed.
“I was upset with myself that I missed that one because I’m in the gym 24/7,” Arrington said. “But I told myself to be ready to make the next one.”
Tusculum, which out-scrapped Catawba for a long time, was running out of gas by the overtime.
Catawba played its best five minutes in the overtime. Arrington put Catawba ahead for good with two free throws at the 3:30 mark. Edwards ran the offense smoothly, and the 6-8 Little asserted himself as a shotblocker. He had two rejections on one Tusculum possession and he had swats that created fastbreak layups for Rucker and Arrington.
Cory Fagan hit a clutch 3-pointer for Tusculum that cut Catawba’s lead to 87-84 with 1:05 left.
That set up the key possession of the game, and Rucker found Arrington open on the right wing with 34 seconds left. This time Arrington, who also was Catawba’s vocal leader on defense, didn’t miss.
“That was the dagger shot,” Arrington said. “We did a lot of building as a team today. We were able to put away all those negatives we had in the first half and build off the positives.”
A relieved Baker agreed it was a decent day.
“It wasn’t a pretty game, but our guys didn’t quit,” he said. “We grew up a little bit and we grew together a little bit.”
TUSCULUM (89) — Walker 20, Carter 16, Shown 15, Jumper 10, Fagan 8, Mounce 7, Flynn 6, Davis 2, Fisher 2, Jorgensen 2, Miller 1.
CATAWBA (93) — Arrington 28, Rucker 18, Little 12, Edwards 10, Marijosius 10, Warren 6, Perkins 5, Byrd 2 Sampah 2, Ingram, Houston.
Tusculum 42 34 13 — 89
Catawba 32 44 17 — 93