College basketball: Catawba men end slide

Published 10:17 pm Saturday, January 25, 2020

By Mike London

SALISBURY — Sometimes the game plan is simple.

On Saturday, for Catawba men’s basketball team, it was one word — rebound.

Tusculum came to Goodman Gym as the best offensive rebounding team in Division II, but took a glass-kicking from the Indians.

Catawba also won on the scoreboard, 82-75, to end a surprising four-game losing skid.

Larry McLeod had nine boards, five on the offensive end. Malik Constantine closed out five Tusculum possessions with defensive rebounds.

“We needed this one badly,” said Constantine, a 6-foot-6 senior. “We needed to get back to our winning ways. Specifically, for this game, if we were going to win we knew we had to rebound and we did. We beat them on the boards.”

Catawba (12-6, 7-5) was outstanding at the foul line. Constantine, Devin Cooper and Marcell Haskett combined to go 20-for-20, and the team was 29-for-34. Catawba also shot very well from the 3-point line (9-for-20) thanks mostly to Cooper’s 4-for-6.

Catawba experienced a rough stretch with consecutive SAC losses to Lincoln Memorial, Queens, Lenoir-Rhyne and Anderson. Catawba hadn’t won a game since Jan. 8 and hadn’t tasted victory at home since Jan. 4.

“I think we lost a little bit of our offensive confidence and that led to us losing some defensive confidence,” Catawba head coach Rob Perron said. “We were second in the league in defense, but then we hit a stretch where everyone was shooting torrid against us.”

Both Constantine and Perron pointed out that it was at this same point last season that Catawba experienced a three-game losing skid before putting it all together, turning it on and finishing 25-8.

“We had a similar slump,” Constantine said. “But we got back on track last season, and we can do that again. We owe some teams, and our destiny is still out there. It’s in our hands.”

Tusculum had a sweet-shooting stretch to take a 26-19 lead midway through the first half, but a jumper by Constantine started a 9-0 Catawba run that was capped by a Terrence Whitfield 3-pointer.

Catawba went up by 10 on one of Cooper’s 3-pointers but settled for a 41-35 lead at halftime.

“We should’ve been up more,” Perron said. “We had a bunch of drops, like football drops, dropping passes when we had a layup. We also tried to dribble some loose balls instead of just picking the ball up and lost possession. About a dozen points got away from us. It was a pretty big swing.”

Tusculum got within two early in the second half, but a couple of flying offensive rebounds by McLeod, 3-pointers by Cooper and Haskett and a series of layups by Ben Zemonek stabilized the Indians.

“Ben’s good at finding those holes in the defense,” Perron said. “He was really good today. A lot of our guys were really efficient offensively. A lot of points for the number of shots they took.”

Catawba got 20 points from Cooper, 16 from Haskett and 10 each from McLeod, Constantine and Daquan Lilly. Zemonek scored eight in 13 minutes off the bench.

Catawba went up by 14 with 14:10 remaining when Haskett buried a contested 3-pointer. That lead would  hold up the rest of the way, although 18 Catawba turnovers and 51.7-percent Tusculum shooting kept the Pioneers (11-9, 6-6) within striking distance all the way. It was a four-point game with 55 seconds left, but the Pioneers had to foul and Haskett and Cooper kept making every free throw.

“We didn’t get caught up in playing how Tusculum wanted to play,” Constantine said. “We slowed it down when we needed to and we sustained our lead.”

Tariq Jenkins scored 18 for the visitors, but  it was a critical victory for the Indians, who now hit the road for games at Newberry, UVa-Wise and Wingate. Catawba won’t be home again until it plays Mars Hill on Feb. 8.

TUSCULUM (75) — Jenkins 18, Smith 16, Gibson 13, Scott 13, B. Mitchell 8, Hodnett 5, King 2, Brown, Wilkins, J. Mitchell.

CATAWBA (82) — Cooper 20, Haskett 16, Lilly 10, Constantine 10, McLeod 10, Zemonek 8, Matthews 5, Whitfield 3, Prophete.

Tusculum     35    40   — 75

Catawba       41     41    — 82