SAC Basketball: Tusculum 60, Catawba 50
By Mike London
SALISBURY — In a perfect world, Stuart Thomson’s 3-pointer for the lead with 1:45 left on the clock would’ve gone in, but not a lot fell Catawba’s way in Saturday’s 60-50 SAC loss to Tusculum.
Thomson was one of five Indians honored in Senior Day pregame festivities at Goodman Gym and joined Matt Tamer, Justin Huntley, Cameron Lovelace and Kelvin Drakeford in an all-senior starting lineup.
“Very nice kids, and they’ll all graduate by August,” Catawba coach Jim Baker said. “They’ve had a pretty good run here. I just hate this season hasn’t gone better.”
Unfortunately, Catawba’s offense never got flowing in a 60-50 setback to the tall, gritty, methodical Pioneers (9-15, 6-10).
“I thought we played hard and defended well,” Baker said. “We just couldn’t find a way to speed the game up and we couldn’t score.”
After 12 minutes, Catawba trailed 16-6. Finally, the Indians got into the one-and-one, made some free throws and managed to reach halftime trailing 26-25. They were in decent shape, considering high-scoring Keon Moore had taken just five shots.
Justin Steigerwald was the Pioneer guarding Moore man-to-man, and he conducted a tireless defensive clinic on how to deny the ball to a scorer.
“Justin is the best defender in the SAC because he works hard at it,” Tusculum coach Mike Jones said. “He’s held down some great scorers this year, and Moore is arguably one of the best in our league.”
Catawba tried to post Moore more in the second half, but the Indians missed chances to get him the ball and he missed shots he often makes. Moore came in averaging 21.4 points per game, second in the SAC, but he finished with 12 shots, only two free-throw attempts and a dozen points.
“I just tried to make all his catches tough ones, and if he did get the ball I tried to force him to his left,” Steigerwald explained.
Catawba shot a brutal 3-for-21 on 3-pointers (Moore was 1-for-3), and it was never an easy task finishing around the rim with Tusculum’s 6-foot-10 Tommy Klempin roaming the paint.
Almost every possession was a tenacious, halfcourt tug-of-war.
“Tusculum plays slow and low-scoring,” Thomson said. “They did a great job of slowing us down to their style, and we just had too many scoring droughts to win.”
Catawba briefly seized momentum early in the second half when Tyrece Little soared to swat a shot by Klempin and the high-flying Thomson flushed a nice lob by Conor Strickland.
But then Catawba (7-17, 4-12) went five long, painful minutes without scoring.
At crunch-time, Thomson knocked down two 3s in a span of 90 seconds to chop an eight-point deficit to 48-46, but he missed a 3 for the lead.
A little bad luck provided the dagger. Little and Thomson skied to reject a layup, but the carom went right to Tusculum’s Neal Spinks.
Spinks’ uncontested layup made it 52-48 Pioneers with 1:21 remaining, and the visitors didn’t look back.
“Ty and I both blocked that shot,” Thomson said. “It just fell right to the trailer.”
TUSCULUM (60) — Steigerwald 11, Klempin 11, Neal Spinks 10, Vest 9, Nicholas Spinks 7, Carter 6, O’Conner 6.
SALISBURY (50) — Thomson 16, Moore 12, Huntley 6, Little 6, Gilmore 6, Lovelace 2, Tyree 2, Strickland, Watson, Martin, Tamer, Drakeford.
Tusculum 26 34 — 60
Catawba 25 25 — 50