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College basketball: Catawba men win 6th in a row

By Mike London
mike.london@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Basketball has evolved from the days when there were simply two guards, two forwards and a center.

Catawba newcomer Zaqwuan Matthews, who is 6-foot-5, was brought in not as a guard or forward, but as a “three and D” specialist. His focus is on shooting the 3-ball and bringing long-armed energy on the defensive end.

“Three and D man,” Matthews said with a laugh. “Coach says I remind him of Klay Thompson.”

Catawba head coach Rob Perron doesn’t ask Matthews to score 20. He asks him to score 10 and to hold an opponent below his average.

Matthews was very good on Saturday afternoon at Goodman Gym, making two 3-pointers in three tries and scoring 13 as surging Catawba held off Carson-Newman, 98-91, for another South Atlantic Conference victory.

Matthews did what he did in just 18 turnover-free minutes and did it an emotional environment. Matthews is a graduate of Charlotte’s Myers Park High, and Carson-Newman has accumulated four Charlotte players. One of those four, Zailan Peeler, is Matthews’ younger brother.

Peeler didn’t score in 22 minutes and made five turnovers for the Eagles, so there obviously was a lot to deal with.

Both teams were shorthanded. Catawba, which won its sixth in a row, played without Ben Zemonek (thumb).

Carson-Newman (5-7, 2-4) traded baskets with the Indians (10-2, 5-1) most of of the first half. When Kamil Chapman made a 3-pointer with 2:35 left in the half, the Eagles were down only 37-36.

But the Indians finished the half on a 9-0 run. Marcell Haskett made a jumper. Larry McLeod got the soft roll on a 3-pointer from the top after Matthews found him. Daquan Lilly scored off an offensive rebound. Then McLeod pounded down a dunk on a lob by Devin Cooper. The Indians went to the half up 10, 46-36.

“We hadn’t been applying any ball pressure, but we extended our defense and applied pressure late in the half,” Matthews said. “That’s where that run came from.”

Perron watched the first half calmly. He’s gotten used to this sort of behavior from Catawba. The Indians are talented, but they play in peaks and valleys. Returners such as Lilly, Cooper, Haskett, Malik Constantine and Terrence Whitfield are still learning how to maximize the considerable talents of newcomers McLeod and Matthews.

“We’ve got this really good, eight-cylinder engine, but it’s like we’re still fine-tuning it,” Perron said. “We lost five seniors and two of them are playing pro ball now, so this is a new team. We’re far from perfect, we haven’t played our best, but we’re 10-2, with both losses in overtime, and I didn’t know if we could be 10-2 at this point. These guys are looking to set their own legacy.”

Carson-Newman recovered well from that disastrous conclusion to the first half, and the Indians couldn’t shake the visitors. When Jaylan McGill made a 3-pointer with 3:43 remaining, Carson-Newman was only down, 83-78.

When Catawba turned it over, Carson-Newman had a chance to get even closer, but a jumper by Tripp Davis (22 points) wouldn’t fall.

Catawba failed on a chance to score in transition, but when the rebound was slapped out of bounds, the Indians retained possession with 2:46 left. That was probably the biggest possession of the game. The Indians desperately needed a bucket.

“We’d kept an inbounds play in our bag for a crucial time, and we used it,” Perron said. “We practiced it and practiced it, and guys executed.”

Matthews was the primary option, He got right to the rim for a three-point play.

“That play worked just like we drew it up,” Matthews said. “I had the mismatch. Devin (Cooper) got the ball to me.”

After Matthews pushed the lead to eight, Haskett made one of his five steals and sank two free throws for an 88-78 lead.

A dunk by Matthews off a lob pass by Lilly helped Catawba finish things off.

Carson-Newman out-shot the Indians from the field and from the 3-point line, but Catawba went 26-for-33 on free throws, while Carson-Newman was 14-for-17. The rebounding struggle was fierce and even. Catawba had a 22-16 edge in the turnover battle and had 14 steals, most of which led to scoring opportunities.

Cooper is a little beat up. A bad ankle affected his jumpers, but he adjusted and played with his usual tough-guy confidence. He had nine points, seven rebounds and only two turnovers in 31 minutes as the primary ball handler.

Haskett shot just 1-for-8 on 3-pointers, but he attacked and defended. He scored 24 points mostly by getting to the foul line, where he shot 13-f0r-14.

Lilly was rock-solid again with 20 points and eight boards.

Constantine had spectacular moments and contributed 10 points and 13 rebounds.

McLeod scored 14 on 6-for-7 shooting. He was hurt late in the game, but Perron is optimistic he avoided a concussion.

“We didn’t shoot well, but we still scored 98 — and I think that’s a good sign,” Perron said. “Now we go on the road (for the next three games), but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Our guys have been hyper-focused on the road.”

CARSON-NEWMAN (91) — Davis 22, Bush 19, Chapman 11, McGill 10, Henderson 8, Bykov 8, Thomas 6, Wallace 5, Smith 2, Peeler, Brenegan.

CATAWBA (98) — Haskett 24, Lilly 20, McLeod 14, Matthews 13, Constantine 10, Cooper 9, Whitfield 4, Johnson 2, Robinson 2, Prophete.

Carson-Newman     36   55   — 91

Catawba                    46   52   — 98

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