GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- The Catawba College men's basketball team converted two turnovers into two baskets in the final 35 seconds as the Catawba Indians fended off a furious rally in a 75-71 South Atlantic Conference win at Tusculum University Saturday afternoon at Pioneer Arena.
Catawba (5-2, 1-1 SAC), the No. 4 ranked team in the NCAA II Southeast Region, led by as many as 14 points in the second half and held a 12 advantage with 5:37 remaining. Tusculum (5-3, 1-1 SAC – No. 10 in D2SIDA SE Region Poll) went on an 18-6 run including a 9-0 spurt and tied the game at 71-71 following a three-pointer by freshman Joshua Scott.
Tusculum forced a turnover on Catawba's ensuing possession following a steal by senior Tariq Jenkins with a minute remaining. Jenkins missed his shot in the paint but TU rookie Justin Mitchell came up with the rebound with 35 seconds to go underneath the basket. But Mitchell's pass was deflected and Catawba's Marchell Haskett came up with the steal and drove the length of the court and score the go-ahead basket with 31.9 seconds left.
Trailing by two (73-71), Tusculum had a chance to tie or go for the win. Jenkins drove into the lane, but his pass was deflected initially by Malik Constantine and was grabbed by Zaqwuan Matthews. Matthews passed to Constantine who went the length of the court and slammed home an insurance dunk with 5.9 seconds left to seal the victory.
Haskett led all scorers with 20 points, while Catawba teammate Devin Cooper added 19 points, five rebounds and a game-high six assists. Constantine finished with nine points and six rebounds in the victory.
Tusculum sophomore Trenton Gibson led the Pioneers with 17 points, three assists and four steals, while Scott shot 6-of-8 from the floor and tallied a season-best 14 points with 10 of those markers coming in the second half. Jenkins accounted for 12 points while Justin Mitchell had 10 points in the loss.
Catawba finished the game shooting 58.1 percent including 14-of-23 in the second half (61%) as well as 5-of-8 from three-point land in the final 20 minutes. For an eighth time this season, Tusculum out-rebounded its opponent as TU held a 35-30 edge on the boards including 19 boards resulting in 29 second-chance points for the Pioneers.
Catawba, the defending SAC Tournament champions, have won four straight over the Pioneers and take a 27-21 lead in the all-time series. In 48 meetings, 31 have been decided by 10 points or less and 24 by five points or fewer including Saturday's nail-biter.
TU shot only 28 percent in the first half but bounced back going 20-of-39 in the second period (51.3%) to finish the game at 41.2 percent (28-of-68). Gibson (8-of-9) and senior Cameron King (2-of-3) combined for TU's 12 trips to the free throw line as the two combined for 10-of-12 (83.3%). Catawba went 17-of-27 at the line for 63 percent.
In the first half, Catawba led 20-16 and went on a 7-0 run to take its largest lead of the period at 27-16 as Constantine made one of two free throws with 3:11 left in the half. The Pioneers got a three-pointer from Gibson and King came up with a steal and assisted on Scott's fast-break dunk as TU trimmed the deficit to 27-21 with 1:42 on the scoreboard.
Haskett and Terrence Whitfield converted consecutive layups in the final minute to take a 10-point lead, but Jenkins converted a layup with seven seconds on the clock as TU trailed 31-23 at the intermission.
Catawba led by 11 early in the second half following a Haskett bucket with 18:24 to go (36-25). The Pioneers scored five straight on a Jenkins layup and a Scott three-pointer as TU trailed 36-30 with 17:11 on the clock.
The Catawba Indians responded with an 8-0 run over a span of 2:09, which was sparked by two triples by Matthews as the visitors extended the lead to 44-30 with 15 minutes remaining.
With Catawba ahead 48-35, the Pioneers scored six straight with baskets from Scott, Mitchell and Adrian Cohen to cut the lead to 48-41 with 12:31 remaining on the scoreboard.
But Catawba had an answer as Haskett converted a jumper and Cooper drilled a three-pointer as the Indians led by double-digits again at 53-41 with 11:46 left.
The Catawba lead evaporated to seven points again after a Mitchell trey and a King dunk. Later in the half, King converted a three-point play with 7:18 left as the Indians' lead stood at 59-51.
A 5-0 run pushed the Catawba lead to a 13-point margin (64-51) and held a 12-point edge at 65-53 with 5:37 to go before TU made its final charge.
King got the rally started making one of two free throws and Mitchell and Gibson replied with consecutive baskets to cut the lead to seven. After a pair of Catawba turnovers, Gibson made two free throws to trim the deficit to 65-60 with 4:27 left. Smith canned a jumper after another Catawba miscue to trail 65-62 with 3:50 left.
Cooper was fouled for Catawba as he made one of two free throws to make it a 66-62 game with 3:39 left. Jenkins scored on a layup, but Catawba Daquan Lilly followed with a made basket as the deficit remained at four (68-64) with three minutes to go.
Gibson converted a jumper with 2:30 to go as Catawba led 68-66. Constantine would draw a foul and made both of his free throws with 2:19 left as the Indians were in front 70-66. Jenkins matched with his jumper in the paint with 2:05 left as Catawba's lead dwindled to 70-68. Cooper was fouled again and made one of his two free throws. Scott would tie the game at 71-71 with his second trey of the night with 1:18 to go to set the table for the final moments.
Tusculum will begin a three-game road swing beginning with next Saturday's 4 p.m. SAC match-up at Newberry College.