College Basketball: Catawba 82, Livingstone 78

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 16, 2009

By Ronnie Gallagher
MISENHEIMER ó Was Catawba lucky to win its season opener over Livingstone on Sunday night?
Indians coach Jim Baker just shook his head, sighed, and said, “Real lucky.”
Catawba somehow, some way, rallied from a 58-43 deficit, scored the game’s last 11 points and won 82-78 in the opener of the Highway 52 Shootout at Pfeiffer.
“I think experience took over in the second half,” said senior Rob Fields, who sealed the deal by swishing 3-of-4 free throws in the final seconds. “Senior leadership really showed.”
Until the final minutes, Livingstone had controlled the game. When Greg Henry threw down a monster dunk in traffic and converted a free throw with 2:38 left, a win seemed like a safe bet. The Blue Bears led 78-71.
Point guard Aaron Caruthers already had 21 points but his drive into traffic resulted in a turnover. Jarred Stockton took a long three that missed. And when Stephen Coles put in a rebound bucket, Catawba was suddenly within 78-77 with 1:32 left.
“We got rattled,” Livingstone coach James Stinson admitted. “They got in our face and tried to knock us around.”
Especially Donzell Williams, who blanketed Caruthers during the last two minutes.
“He had been slicing us up all night,” said Williams, Catawba’s defensive stopper. “Coach told me to deny him the ball.”
Williams actually made the go-ahead basket for a 79-78 lead with 1:03 left after freshman Lee Martin made the steal of the game.
A walk on Livingstone and a miss by Catawba’s Donald Rutherford gave Livingstone the ball at midcourt with 6.1 seconds with a chance to win. King Cannon threw inbounds to Donte Durant, but he stepped out of bounds.
Stinson said the play he called was open. “It was a bad break,” he said.
With 4.3 seconds left, Fields, an 84-percent free-throw shooter, hit the first of two for an 80-78 lead, but missed the second. The ball was tapped right back to him with 2.2 seconds and he drained two for the win.
“It was a tale of two halves,” Baker said. “The first half, we played like rookies and they played like veterans. They have some pretty good players no one knew anything about. As the game went on, we started adjusting a little better.”
Livingstone, which has many new faces, stunned Catawba from the start. Led by the calming influence of Caruthers, who transferred from North Florida, and Stockton, who came in from Jacksonville University, the Blue Bears made it look easy in the first 20 minutes, leading 46-33 at the half. Stockton was draining threes and Caruthers was feeding 6-foot-9 Keith Darden.
“They were outhustling us and outplaying us,” Williams said. “We weren’t really sure what we were facing tonight.”
Fields agreed, saying, “When they came out and hit all those threes, it surprised us. (Caruthers) is real smart and he was playing his game. But we sped the game up a little more than they wanted in the second half.”
When Darden fouled out with 6:32 left and Livingstone up 68-62, Catawba made its move. Baker called for an all-out press and turnovers and ill-advised shots by Livingstone helped the Indians come back.
It was disappointing to Stinson, whose team lost its share of close games last year.
“This is something we can’t do,” he said. “We can’t afford to give games away. We should have never put ourselves in this position. It hurts.
“They’re the 28th-ranked team in the country. But I think this says something about Livingstone College.”

NOTES: The championship game is tonight between Catawba and Cheyney State. … Rutherford led Catawba with 24 points, while Fields had 21. … Antonio Houston had an off night, going just 4-of-13, but still scored 14. … Catawba was 27-of-36 from the foul line while Livingstone was 15-of-20. … Stockton had 19 for the Blue Bears. Darden and Henry each had 11. … Baker said a big key to the win was the play off the bench of Justin Huntley. The sophomore from Mooresville led the rally, hitting two free throws and then scoring off a Houston steal to bring Catawba within five, 63-58 and giving the Indians hope.