College Basketball: Catawba 67, Tusculum 64
By Ronnie Gallagher
Just win, baby.
That’s what Catawba’s Rob Fields was thinking after a tense 67-64 win over Tusculum Saturday afternoon in Goodman Gym.
The South Atlantic Conference battle came down to free-throw shooting in the final seconds, which, at the time, didn’t seem like a good situation for the Indians. They were just 12 of 24 when Antonio Houston stepped to the line with 17.1 seconds left for a one-and-one.
At the time, his team trailed 64-63. He was just 6 of 16 from the field and 1 of 4 from the stripe.
After a Tusculum turnover, Fields found himself on the line with 8.5 seconds left. His shooting had been shaky as well, hitting only 2 of 9 from the field.
The clutch shooting from the two Catawba juniors kept the Indians (11-3, 3-0) in sole possession of first place and left coach Jim Baker breathing a sigh of relief.
“This group,” he said with a smile, “has the ability to sort of step it up.”
It was a typical Catawba-Tusculum game. The Pioneers (8-6, 1-3) are deliberate, while the Indians love to run. So it was an entertaining clash of styles that kept either team from pulling away.
“It was grind, grind, grind,” Baker said.
Catawba ended the first half on a 6-1 run. Fields had two buckets and when Donald Rutherford rocked the rim for a two-handed jam at the buzzer, the Indians led 35-28.
A rebound basket by 6-foot-8 Cliff Burns and two free throws by Rutherford put Catawba up 45-38 with 14 minutes left.
“That’s a pretty good lead,” Baker said. “But all of a sudden, we started making turnovers.”
And all of a sudden, Baker was looking at a 3-point deficit after the Pioneers went on a 10-0 run.
That was the first of 10 lead changes in the final 10 minutes.
Houston, who had been held to one field goal in the second half, appeared to make a pivotal play with 1:45 left and his team trailing 62-61. He drew contact and put the ball in the basket as the whistle blew.
Baker began clapping.
Moments later, he was grabbing his head in disbelief when an offensive foul nullified the score.
“It was a tough call,” shrugged Houston.
“I thought it was an and-1,” Baker said.
Undaunted, Houston was determined to make a clutch play after Catawba regained possession. He never hesitated when he received the ball at the top of the key and his 17-footer hit nothing but net with 50 seconds left for a 63-62 lead.
“I know my teammates have confidence in me to take the big shot and finish,” Houston said.
So does his coach, who sat quietly when Houston earlier launched some long jumpers that missed.
“He’s such a prolific player on our level that you’ve got to bite your tongue and let him go,” Baker reasoned.
Gritty Tusculum took a 64-63 lead on a Josh Bennett layup with 28 seconds left. Again, Houston found himself in the spotlight 11 seconds later, standing at the foul line. He came through.
“Every time he gets the ball at the end of a game he pulls it out for us,” Fields said of Houston, who scored 18.
Fields then made his shots, setting up Tusculum for one last chance. Kyle Moore, the SAC’s leading scorer (20.2) was open in the corner for a potential tying 3, but the pass was thrown away.
Moore had a tough day, scoring only two in the first half and finishing with nine on 3 of 13 shooting, including 1 of 7 from behind the arc. And he knew why he struggled.
“They have three good, physical guards that rotated on me trying to wear me down,” he said.
Especially 6-3 junior Donzell Williams.
“Donzell’s one of the better defensive players I’ve ever had,” Baker said.
Baker could’ve praised practically every Indian who hit the court. Burns struggled at the line (0-for-5) but hit a big bucket late. Whirling dervish point guard Dominque Reid drilled an important second-half 3-pointer and finished with 12. The high-flying Rutherford excited the crowd with two jams and was one of four Indians in double figures.
“Since last year,” Houston pointed out, “we’ve grown a lot and come together.”
Especially in the clutch.
“They’re a great team,” Moore praised. “They’re very well coached and very deep.”
NOTES: Rutherford was a stat-sheet stuffer with 10 points, five rebounds, two assists, two blocks and a steal. … Houston entered the game as the SAC’s second-leading scorer behind Moore at 19.8 … Moore does have one thing to celebrate. He is a native of Gainesville, Fla., home of national champion Florida. He said he had been getting calls from friends. …Baker won the 275th game of his 15-year career. … Catawba is home again next Saturday against Mars Hill.
TUSCulum (64) ó Bennett 21, Ry. Troutman 14, Moore 9, Ro. Troutman 8, Hobbs 5, Boone 3, Taylor 2, Kostic 2.catawba (67) ó Houston 18, Reid 12, Fields 10, Rutherford 10, Burns 6, Rose 5, Williams 4, Magnusson 2, Shoemaker, Sossamon.
Tusculum 29 35 ó 64
Catawba 35 32 ó 67