SALISBURY — For one bewildering afternoon at Goodman Gym, Catawba’s struggling men’s basketball team pushed aside all of its recent woes.
Then it pushed aside the nation’s 10th-ranked team.
“It’s nice to be on the other side of it,” senior Lee Martin said after the Indians outscored SAC frontrunner Lincoln Memorial 73-63 on Saturday. “We’ve been through so much adversity this season. But today we got focused and stayed focused throughout.”
It was a victory nobody saw coming. Catawba (6-12, 3-7 SAC) prevailed for only the third time since mid-November — and did against a team that shared the conference lead.
“You never know,” coach Jim Baker shrugged afterward. “This is why you go play the games. I kept sensing we just needed to play a couple of teams that weren’t the best. The schedule didn’t do us any favors this week, but we’ve gotten better.”
Catawba was led by freshman guard Elon Edwards, who shot 11-for-18 from the field and scored a game-high 27 points. Teammate Tyrece Little had 21 points and nine rebounds and Martin contributed 13 points and nine boards.
“We got their best shot, but that happens everywhere we go,” losing coach Josh Schertz said after LMU (15-3, 8-2) had its five-game winning streak snapped. “Catawba played like it had nothing to lose.”
A season that had turned sour is sweet again, largely because of Catawba’s better-than-expected defensive display. It held Lincoln Memorial well below the 78.6 points-per-game average it had posted through 17 games. And the Railsplitters’ three big men — 6-foot-10 Jake Troyli, 6-6 Vincent Bailey and 6-6 Dustin Craig — shot a combined 3-for-18 from the floor.
“That’s awful,” Schertz said. “Our post guys were terrible. On a night when we made 11 threes, we couldn’t get anything going inside.”
Especially Troyli. LMU’s leading scorer (15.2 ppg) missed all five of his field goal attempts and failed to score.
“We were clicking on all cylinders,” Little said after netting 15 second-half points and rebounding with wrecking-ball force. “Every time a 3-pointer went in, it was kind of jaw-dropping. Earlier in the season, if someone hit two or three in a row we might have given up.”
Not yesterday. Catawba scored the game’s first six points and went up 10-3 on Little’s eight-foot turnaround jumper at the five-minute mark. LMU rallied behind 10 first-half points from freshman Tim Pierce and took a 31-30 halftime lead when Lorenza Ross canned a 3-ball at the buzzer.
The Indians weren’t phased and opened the second half with renewed vigor. Little hit three consecutive attempts, including a bank shot from near the right baseline that gave Catawba a 36-33 lead. It ballooned to 49-39 when Little took a feed from Edwards and flushed down an industrial-strength jam with 10:11 remaining.
“We were right there with 10 minutes left,” Little said. “Why give up now? At that point we knew we could win the game.”
LMU didn’t go quietly. A 3-pointer from the top of wheel by Chance Jones sliced Catawba’s lead to 60-54 and another home run ball by Ross made it 64-62 with 1:27 to play. But down the stretch the Indians converted nine of 10 free throws to cement the outcome.
“The whole night was a little surprising,” Edwards said. “We played well in transition, we pushed the ball and we got some big offensive rebounds in crunch time.”
NOTES: Catawba shot 28-for-59 from the field, including 50 percent (14-for-28) in the decisive second half.
LINCOLN MEMORIAL (63) — Ross 18, C.Jones 15, Pierce 13, Bailey 6, Craig 6, W.Jones 5, Troyli.
CATAWBA (73) — Edwards 27, Little 21, Martin 13, Perkins 8, Marijosius 4, Watson, Houston, Sampah, Coleman.
L. Memorial 31 32 — 63
Catawba 30 43 — 73