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Basketball (M)

Men's Basketball Takes Out Top-Seeded L-R, Moves Into SAC Title Game

HICKORY, NC -- Antonio Houston (Charlotte, NC/E. Mecklenburg HS) scored 28 points and Dominick Reid (Charlotte, NC/Cannon School) added 22 to lead fourth-seeded Catawba to an 84-84 win over top-seeded Lenoir-Rhyne in the semifinals of the Food Lion South Atlantic Conference men’s basketball tournament on Saturday afternoon at the Catawba Valley Community College Multipurpose Facility.  The Catawba Indians, now 18-11 overall, advance to the tournament finals at 2 p.m. on Sunday.  The Indians will play the winner of Saturday’s other semifinal between Mars Hill and Wingate.

Lenoir-Rhyne (22-6) had a 74-69 lead with 4:39 left to play after a crowd-pleasing dunk by Elliott McDowell, who was also fouled and made the subsequent free-throw.  But for the next four minutes, the Bears missed a pair of close shots and turned the ball over three times, allowing Catawba to storm back and take an 80-75 lead with 42 seconds left.

A 3-pointer by Marcus Hodges with 35 seconds left brought the Bears back to within two points.  L-R’s Donte Watson stole the ball, but an offensive foul by McDowell turned the ball back over to Catawba.  The Indians capitalized, as Jason Diggs (Christiansburg, VA/Christiansburg HS) and Houston hit four consecutive free throws in the final 23 seconds to seal the game before a three-pointer by Lenoir-Rhyne’s Josh Rudder with three seconds left.

“It was a great college basketball game,” said Catawba coach Jim Baker, who will be taking his Indians to the tournament championship for the second straight year. “These two schools have a great rivalry. It was an unbelievable chess match.”

Baker said the Indians have had trouble finding their rhythm this season. But after Saturday’s win, the Indians have won seven of their last eight games.  “The last two weeks, you could tell the whole temperament had changed,” Baker said. “It may have taken us 80 days of practice and 20 games, but we finally got it. We really have played well the last four or five games.”

The Bears were led by Josh Kindred, who had 23 points and nine rebounds. The Bears, who had a 14-game winning streak at one point during the regular season, have now dropped three of their last four games. L-R will have to wait until Sunday to find out if they will receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Division II Tournament.

“I would think we’re number four,” Bears coach John Lentz said. “Our collective body of work through the year should get us in, but who knows.”

In what was an otherwise close game, Lentz said the late-game turnovers were the key. Lenoir-Rhyne had 16 turnovers in the game (to 15 for Catawba), but Catawba had a 25-13 advantage in points off turnovers.
 “It was unforced turnovers,” Lentz said. “We just didn’t take care of the ball. That was the deciding factor. We turned it over five times in that stretch and didn’t get a good shot.”

Lenoir-Rhyne shot 56.4 percent for the game (31-of-55) and posted a 17-12 advantage in fast-break points.  The SAC Freshman of the Year, Reid, hit four 3-pointers for the Indians and had a team-high five assists.

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