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College basketball: Statement game for Catawba men

By Mike London
mike.london@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Catawba’s fifth-year senior guard Jameel Taylor rose and smashed down a dunk for a five-point lead with 17:05 remaining.

A media timeout followed, and as Lincoln Memorial reeled and Goodman Gym exploded, Taylor headed for the Catawba bench, fists clenched, tears streaming down his face.

“Everyone’s asking Jameel in the huddle if he’s OK,” Catawba head coach Rob Perron said. “He was Ok. Just a lot emotion today. A lot of blood, sweat and tears.”

A lot of frustration, a lot of emotion, a lot of everything had gone into Taylor’s ferocious slam. Catawba had been battered and shattered so many times by Lincoln Memorial. The Railsplitters had beaten Catawba 11 times in a row and 15 out of 16.

But not on Saturday. Catawba won 96-83, taking its biggest SAC victory in many years. Catawba hadn’t beaten LMU since 2013 and had been embarrassed in both meetings with LMU last season.

LMU finished first in the SAC last season. Catawba finished ninth.

“That dunk wasn’t just for me, it was for every one of the teammates I played with who never beat Lincoln Memorial,” Taylor said. “Lincoln Memorial has tremendous players and they’ve been top dogs a long time. But this was a statement game for Catawba. It’s a game we’ve been looking forward to on the schedule since the season started.”

LMU (10-4, 5-2) got 22 points from guard Anthony Brown, who made 12 free throws.

Catawba (13-2, 6-1) got 22 points from explosive guard Marcell Haskett, who actually spent time in a Lincoln Memorial uniform before his travels led him to Catawba. Haskett was elusive and deadly, going 4-for-4 on 3-pointers.

Taylor scored 19. Malik Constantine (15), Devin Cooper (12) and Daquan Lily (11) also reached double figures.

Constantine, another Catawba veteran and an inside-outside monster when he’s healthy, put together an amazing personal run in the first half, making shots from all over.

“It was as emotional as I knew it would be,” Constantine said. “The key for me was just playing off my teammates and not trying to do too much. We just kept running the ball at them as hard as we could.”

The teams battled to a 44-all standoff in the first half.

“You want to play on your toes, not your heels, but I thought we were on our heels some,” Perron said. “We took some shots that were too quick, but I also thought we played with a confidence that bordered on over-confidence. It’s a great feeling as a coach when you realize that your players are not afraid and that they trust each other. When you’re not afraid and you trust each other, you know you can beat anybody.”

Catawba led 50-49 with 17:38 remaining. Cooper made two free throws for a three-point lead. Then Cooper stole the ball. That led to Jeremy McLaughlin’s pass ahead to Taylor, who has scored more than 1,600 points, for his resounding fast-break dunk that made it 54-49. That was the turning point, as waves of noise swept the gym.

“My teammates said that energized everyone,” Taylor said. “A lot of momentum was on our side. Then we turned up the defensive intensity.”

Ben Zemonek scored the next four points with a jumper and a swooping finger roll, and the Indians were up nine.

Next came two battling buckets by Taylor and a 3-point bomb from Haskett. Now it was 65-49 with 13:56 remaining and LMU needed a timeout. Catawba had scored 15 straight.

“We drill in practice on trying to get three consecutive defensive stops,” Perron said. “We put a bunch of stops together and we had a nice run.”

Catawba’s lead would swell to 21 points before the Railsplitters cut into it down the stretch. The Indians were never in serious danger after that 15-0 blitz.

“I knew this summer when this team started coming together that we were going to be special,” said Constantine, who had a slam-dunk follow in the second half. “I knew we’d win this game, I had no doubt we’d win this game. But we still had to go out and do it. It feels great that we did.”

It felt best of all for Perron and for Taylor, who had to sit out last season with an injury, had to sit and watch his teammates get creamed without him.

Catawba shot 50 percent on 3-pointers and a solid 49 percent from the field. A 20-11 edge in the turnover battle was helpful. The boards were dead-even.

“This was not our best, but we did make good in-game adjustments and we played with intelligence,” Perron said. “It’s a meaningful win against an outstanding program and an outstanding coach.”

Now alone in second place, Catawba has another marquee game on Wednesday as first-place Queens (15-2, 7-0) visits Goodman Gym.

•••

NOTES: Members of Catawba’s women’s soccer team that made a regional appearance were honored at halftime.

 

LMU (83) — Brown 22, Henry 18, C. Taylor 15, Calhoun 11, Hackett 8, Bledson 4, McCauley 3, Dahling 2, Harvin, Brown, Perriere.

CATAWBA (96) — Haskett 22, J. Taylor 19, Constantine 15, Cooper 12, Lilly 11, McLaughlin 7, McElveen 6, Zemonek 4, Johnson, Robinson.

LMU              44    39   — 83

Catawba        44    52   — 96

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