SALISBURY — In a perfect world, Lee Martin would’ve scored 30 points on Saturday at Goodman Gym, and Ben Veshi, the former manager who became a player, would’ve made his open jumper.
Instead, Martin settled for 13 points, Veshi’s shot rimmed out, and Catawba’s Senior Day festivities changed from a celebration into a draining 85-77 SAC loss to Newberry.
“You always want to win Senior Day,” Martin said. “Your family is in the gym, and they’re honoring you, but youth cost us. We played great for 32 minutes, but we’ve gotta fix those other eight.”
Catawba (8-16, 5-11) put five men in double figures and knocked down 12 3-pointers, but Newberry (12-12, 8-8) provided the two most amazing stats. Brandon Riley shot 18 free throws on his way to 25 points, and Demarkus Smith, who is listed at 5-foot-10, somehow accounted for 14 rebounds.
Catawba’s freshman backcourt of Reggie Perkins and Elon Edwards teamed for 30 points, but the Indians had 14 turnovers in the second half.
Catawba had an enormous size advantage, and Newberry’s best player (Dondray Walker) was hobbled by a hip-pointer, but the Indians still wesre badly outrebounded.
“If size was important, Miss America would weigh 300 pounds,” Catawba coach Jim Baker said glumly. “Newberry was quicker to the ball. They beat us to a lot of loose balls.”
Newberry coach Dave Davis relished coaching frantic, mass-substitution, 105-103 games during his long tenure at Pfeiffer, but he’s shorthanded and had to tweak things.
“With eight healthy bodies, we were limited to playing halfcourt offense and halfcourt defense,” Davis said. “We’ve gone through unbelievable adversity (five OT losses, plus injuries) , but we stayed the course today. It was a very gutty effort.”
There were things about Newberry that showed the Dave Davis influence. For one thing, starters from New Zealand and Iceland. For another, Riley, who is 6-1, was listed as the center.
Catawba could not have played better in the first half, shooting 61.3 percent, drilling 7 of 13 3s, and committing four turnovers in a fast-paced game.
“We had to keep telling ourselves there was no way they could keep that up,” Riley said. “We kept believing in ourselves. No one put his head down.”
When Tyrece Little (12 points, 10 rebounds) dunked on consecutive possessions, it was 61-all with 12:50 left, but Catawba scored just two points over the next six minutes. When Riley made two free throws with 6:36 left, Newberry led by 10.
“Just a lot of rookie mistakes in that stretch,” Baker said.
It wasn’t over, though. A 3-pointer by Nick Houston ended Catawba’s drought and triggered a spurt. Newberry’s lead was down to 73-72 after Houston’s layup with 3:26 left, but Smith hit a huge turnaround for 75-72, and after the Indians turned it over again, Riley made two clutch free throws.
Martin hit a 3 — his fourth —for Catawba’s final points. Then he had an extended postgame conversation with Davis.
“I know Lee is hurting right now because I could see how much he wanted to win this game,” Davis said. “He’s such a good player and he’s improved so much. He’s one of those guys who can kill you inside or out.”
NEWBERRY (85) — Riley 25, Smith 16, Riggs 13, Steinarsson 13, Holmes 6, Ashby 4, Brunes 4, Dickerson 4, Walker.
CATAWBA (77) — Perkins 16, Edwards 14, Martin 13, Little 12, Marijosius 10, Houston 9, Sampah 3, Coleman, Veshi, Watson.
Newberry 43 42 — 85
Catawba 46 31 — 77