First half key as Catawba men stop Carson-Newman 86-78

Published 9:18 pm Saturday, February 4, 2023

By David Shaw

SALISBURY — Red-hot early and shivery-cold late. That recipe somehow produced a tasty outcome for the Catawba men’s basketball team Saturday afternoon.

The Indians used a used a lights-out first half to help gain a deserving 86-78 SAC victory over visiting Carson-Newman, serving notice they aren’t simply renting space atop the league’s Piedmont Division.

“We’re trying to remain the hunters,” coach Rob Perron said at Goodman Gym, where Catawba (15-5, 10-2 SAC) secured its 11th win in the past 13 games. “You have to remember, we were picked to finish like seventh in this league. But when you start moving higher in the standings, you realize people are going to come after you. We’re just trying to stay calm, stay hungry and take this one game at a time.”

Catawba’s first February triumph came on the heels of a 7-1 January showing and made a good point. It’s a team that lacks headliners but continues to make headlines. “We need everyone to contribute,” junior swingman DeAngelo Epps said after netting a game-high 22 points. “We’ve got a bunch of versatile pieces and we all play a role. It’s our personalities and how we fit together. It’s way more than stats.”

Yet the stats told an interesting story. Catawba shot a blistering 50 percent (19-for-38) from the field and made seven 3-pointers in the first half. It led by as many as 24 points and descended to its locker room with a 52-34 halftime advantage. Most damaging was the inside-outside work of 6-foot-9 forward Jerome Bivins, a Detroit native who last played for Benedict College in South Carolina. A second-semester roster addition, he turned his 11th game of the season into a showcase event — burying six of 12 field goal attempts and scoring all 16 of points in the opening half.

“I haven’t really played in a year-and-a-half,” said Bivins, a red-shirt senior affectionately nicknamed ‘The Microwave’ due to his knack for heating up at key moments. “But I wound up here, with a coach who believes in me.”

Perron was most impressed during a game-changing, 13-minute span in the first half — when Catawba transformed an early 5-4 deficit into a commanding 48-24 lead.  Bivins sank his first basket — a floater that provided a 21-7 edge just 7:30 into the game — and followed it with an authoritative putback and three consecutive 3-balls, the last of which brought the modest matinee crowd to its feet.

“He has incredible spurt ability,” said Perron, now in his 10th season. “He’s already had four games this year where he’s made four shots or more in less than eight or 10 minutes. He doesn’t have great endurance yet, but he’s a guy who can get it going.”

Carson-Newman (11-11, 5-7) whittled away at its deficit and drew within 62-47 when sophomore Nick Brenegan beamed in a 3-pointer from the left side with 12:22 remaining. The Eagles eventually closed within 82-76, when Brenegan capped a 10-2 flurry with an across-the-lane layup with just 41 seconds to play. But the Indians put this one in the safe when Kaleb Wallace and Epps each converted a pair of free throws in the waning seconds.

“We may have sped it up a little bit,” Epps said after Catawba suffered 10 second-half turnovers, including three in the final minute. “But we’re working out those kinks. We’re still working on putting a whole game together. We know sometimes you have to slow down and just execute. That’s what will make us a next-level team.”

Then, with a sideways glance that almost lets you in on a secret, he added: “And we still haven’t played our best basketball.”

Perron knows his team won’t out-flash, out-razzle or out-dazzle any of Catawba’s six remaining SAC opponents.

“We don’t want to be content with any of this,” he said. “We just want to keep improving every game. Look at us, we’re not statistically phenomenal. But we’ve had several games where five of six guys score in double figures. Kansas had Danny Manning and the unknown Jayhawks. We’re like that — you know, who’s going to be the unknown guy who comes through tonight? We’ve got guys who can score in bunches, but our team motto has been, ‘We need everybody.'”

And that’s a recipe that usually tastes just fine.

NOTES: Catawba improved to 8-1 in Piedmont Division games and widened its lead over second-place Wingate (9-4 SAC) to a game-and-a-half. … The Indians forced 21 turnovers. Wallace hit a trio of 3-pointers and finished with 17 points and three blocked shots, giving Catawba three scorers in double figures. Teammate Javeon Jones had five assists. … Catawba finished 28-for-66 (42.4 percent) from the field. Carson-Newman shot 31-for-63 (49.2 percent) and held a 44-37 rebounding edge. … Catawba plays its final non-conference game Monday night at Bluefield State and visits SAC rival Anderson on Wednesday.

Carson-Newman   34    44 — 78

Catawba                  52    34 — 86

CARSON-NEWMAN (78) — L.Brenegan 15, N.Brenegan 12, McElhaney 10, Browder 9, Beeker 8, Thomas 6, Bridgewater 5, Bowens 5, Satterfield 3, Zhao 3, Dyer 2.

CATAWBA (86) — Epps 22, Wallace 17, Bivins 16, Gerald 8, Robinson 8, Nelson 7, Kowalski 5, Jones 3, Tinsley, Peacock.