SALISBURY — Catawba coach Jim Baker said Tyrece Little couldn’t have been much worse when the Indians lost at UNC Pembroke on Dec. 30, and Little had 10 long days to think about his 3-for-12 effort in front of a host of family and friends.
Little redeemed himself Wednesday, pouring in a career-best 27 points to lead a 71-69 SAC victory against Brevard at Goodman Gym.
“I felt like I let my teammates down at Pembroke,” said the 6-foot-8 Little, who had nine rebounds and blocked three shots. “I wanted to show them tonight they could depend on me.”
Little, a sophomore, and 6-6 senior wing Lee Martin (18 points, 14 rebounds) had tremendous games, but the three guys usually on the floor with them are freshmen, and that means plenty of ups and downs.
Catawba led by 10 semi-comfortable points when former Carson hero Nick Houston stroked a 3-pointer to end the first half, but the Indians (4-7, 1-2) were seriously sweating by the end. Brevard’s Gerel Simmons was an inch or so short on a right-on-line wing 3-pointer that would’ve beaten the Indians at the horn. It was that close to being a disastrous loss.
“We needed this one,” sighed a relieved Baker. “We played a good first half, but then we started standing around in the second half, and we made a whole lot of mistakes defensively. We’ve got really good kids, but they’re still young kids.”
Little had 18 points by halftime. He was making flying tip-ins, dunking loose balls and nailing contested turnarounds. Brevard had no answer.
“I was just getting great position for rebounds and my teammates were making passes that gave me a lot of good looks,” Little explained.
Brevard (2-9, 1-2) was content to launch — and miss — 3s in the first half, but it got considerably more aggressive in the second half.
Matthew Ward (17 points), Dominique Pickett (14) and Manzey Miller (13, all in the second half) used effective screens to get to the rim, and the Tornados caught up in the first six minutes of the second half.
Brevard led briefly 56-53 midway through the second half, but Martin grabbed a defensive board, and then knocked down a straight-on 3 as a trailer when Elon Edwards slipped the ball back to him. That made it 56-all.
Martin is a physical therapist’s dream, as he’s dealing with pain in his back, ankle and hamstring. Catawba’s training staff is working overtime to keep him taped and on the court, and his 35-minute performance Wednesday was pretty remarkable.
“If I was a horse, they would already have shot me,” quipped Martin, who may have a future in stand-up comedy.
Asked about his six offensive rebounds, Martin had another good answer. “The bad thing is it means we were missing a lot of shots,” he said.
Catawba also made some.
With the Indians down 62-60, Martin tied it with a drive. Then Little’s spinning jumper put the Indians up 64-62 with 4:15 left, and his soaring block on Pickett led to two free throws by Chris Watson for a four-point lead.
Miller’s 3-pointer with 2:05 left kept Brevard’s hopes alive.
Martin sank both ends of a one-and-one chance with the crowd pleading, and freshman guard Reggie Perkins calmly made two clutch free ones for a 70-67 Catawba lead with 19 seconds remaining.
With the Indians defending the 3-point line, Miller drove for an uncontested layup with eight seconds left to shave Catawba’s lead to a single point.
Following a timeout, Martin had to make the critical inbounds pass from underneath Cataba’s goal, and after several anxious seconds, he found Houston. Houston hit his first free throw for 71-69 but missed the second.
Then Simmons got the open look he wanted with about a second left, but luck sided with the Indians this time. They ended a six-game slide and won for the first time since Nov. 16.
“We absolutely needed this one,” Martin said. “It’s the way to start a new year. Now we can go forward.”
BREVARD (69) — Ward 17, Pickett 14, Miller 13, Leathers 7, Moe 7, Gujanicic 7, Simmons 4.
CATAWBA (71) — Little 27, Martin 18, Edwards 10, Perkins 7, Watson 5, Houston 4, Sampah, Marijosius.
Brevard 34 35 — 69
Catawba 44 27 — 71
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