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College basketball: Catawba escapes trap game

By Mike London

mike.london@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY —  School out. Students gone.

Players thinking about heading home for the holidays. An underrated opponent eager to play the Grinch role and steal Catawba’s Christmas.

All the ingredients were in place on Saturday afternoon for a disaster at Goodman Gym.

“It was a trap game for us,” Catawba men’s basketball coach Rob Perron said.  “The break is here. The gym was quiet. We had to create energy.”

Catawba created just enough. The Indians won, 94-87, but they had a hard time shaking a Southern Wesleyan team that used the 3-point line well (12-for-28) and hung with the muscular, bouncy Indians on the boards and in the turnover battle.

“Give Southern Wesleyan a lot of credit,” said Daquan Lilly, a 6-foot-7 tower of strength who paced the Indians with 20 points and nine rebounds. “That’s a pretty solid team with some talent.”

Clenzo Ross, who played previously at Lander scored 28 points for the SWU Warriors (6-6), while freshman guard Ta’Jay Dunlap had 20.

Catawba shot 60 percent in the first half, but settled for a 43-41 lead at the break. That’s how well the visitors played.

There was one point in the first half when Catawba (9-2) had a chance to achieve separation. Larry McLeod, a 6-6 human highlight film who had four dunks, went spinning in for an and-one. He followed it up with a soaring stick-back three-point play for a 36-28 lead. But the Warriors shook off that brief thunderstorm and clawed right back into the game.

It was 57-all almost midway through the second half when Catawba put together a torrid fast break. Devon Cooper rebounded and fired the ball ahead to Ben Zemonek at midcourt. Terrence Whitfield snared Zemonek’s bullet pass in stride for a flying finish and one of his two dunks. That play did bring energy and noise, but moments later, Cooper, Catawba’s primary ballhandler, picked up his third personal foul on a charge.

Cooper headed to the bench for the next three minutes, so it was a dangerous time, but Catawba was able to stay level in Cooper’s absence.

“We had 14 turnovers,  a pretty good number for us,” Perron said. “More assists (17) than turnovers.”

Cooper had eight of those assists. He didn’t have a good day from 3, but he made enough late free throws to score 17 points.

Zaqwuan Matthews had a mostly quiet afternoon, but he hit the biggest shot. It was 67-all with 6:10 left when Cooper drove hard to the rim but didn’t have an angle to finish against taller defenders. Rather than forcing a shot, he kicked out to an open Matthews on the right wing. Matthews stroked the 3-ball that put Catawba ahead to stay.

After Cooper made a free throw for 71-67, it was Lilly’s turn. He slashed and smashed for a layup off a break for 73-67. Then he backed a defender within 5 feet of the cup and scored over him for 75-67.

“They had their big man out with fouls, so I took that to my advantage,” Lilly said. “I tried to impose my will.”

After Malik Constantine grabbed a defensive rebound, Marcell Haskett threaded the 3-pointer that gave Catawba an 11-point edge. Haskett added a free throw and the Indians owned a 79-67 lead and the 12-0 run everyone had been waiting for. Everyone on the floor had a hand in it.

“Our bench was really important to get us to that run,” Perron said. “Southern Wesleyan was fighting fatigue and they were dealing with foul trouble.”

Southern Wesleyan got back as close as  87-82 with 33 seconds left, but Catawba made most of its free throws. Whenever Southern Wesleyan, which had three players foul out, missed, Constantine or Lilly yanked down the rebound to close the possession.

“Lilly played another great game,” Perron said. “He’s that guy that always does everything we ask — and then he does the extra. He exemplifies everything we’re trying to build with this program.”

•••

NOTES: McLeod, as usual, produced remarkable dunks from interesting angles.  He scored 16 and had eight rebounds. “When I’m on the bench, McLeod is my favorite player to watch,” Lilly said with a laugh. … McLeod, Zemonek and Matthews got technicals. There was nothing malicious, flagrant or outrageous about any of it, but Zemonek and McLeod were whistled for T’s of the taunting variety after making nice buckets. The one on Matthews was for mischief. Haskett was fouled near midcourt, but he took a few extra dribbles after the whistle just for the fun of it and then fired the ball ahead to Matthews, who flushed it. One ref wasn’t thrilled. ,,, Catawba won’t play again until Jan. 4 when Carson-Newman comes to Goodman Gym for a 4 p.m. tip. … Former Carson star Cole Perry is redshirting this season for Southern Wesleyan.

SOUTHERN WESLEYAN (87) — Ross 28, Dunlap 21, Lowery 10, Harvin 8, Holmes 6, Davis 6, Ferrell 6, Poore 2.

CATAWBA (94) — Lilly 20, Haskett 18, Cooper 17, McLeod 16, Whitfield 8, Zemonek 6, Matthews 5, Constantine 4, Robinson, Prophete.

Southern Wesleyan      41    46   — 87

Catawba                         43     51   — 94

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