March 9, 2008
Men's Basketball Holds Off Mars Hill to Take SAC Championship
Indians score one point over last eight minutes, survive 31 turnovers
HICKORY, NC -- Catawba nearly saw a 19-point lead disappear in the final eight minutes, but held on to defeat Mars Hill 54-52 to claim the championship of the 2008 Food Loin South Atlantic Conference men’s basketball tournament on Sunday afternoon at the CVCC Multipurpose Complex. The fourth-seeded Catawba Indians (19-11) claim the league’s automatic bid into the NCAA II South Atlantic Regional. The sixth-seeded Lions end their season at 14-16.
The Indians looked in control when tournament MVP Antonio Houston (Charlotte, NC/E. Mecklenburg HS) put Catawba on top 53-34 on a jumper with 8:14 left, but that would be the final field goal for the Indians as the Lions would reel off 18 straight points to close within 53-52 in the final minute.
After Catawba grabbed the game’s largest lead, Akeen Coakley scored five straight points for the Lions to pull Mars Hill within 53-40 with 5:28 left. The Lions converted three straight Catawba turnovers into six points to reduce the deficit to 53-46 with 4:25 to go.
A free throw by Tony Blake and a steal and layup by Stoney Polite closed the gap to 53-49 with 3:19 left. A three-point play by Jordan Skinner brought the Lions within a point at 53-52 with 38 seconds left. Catawba would suffer its eighth turnover in the final five minutes on the ensuing inbounds play, but Mars Hill failed to cash in.
Donald Rutherford (Morganton, NC/Freedom HS) made the first of two free throws with 27 seconds remaining to give Catawba a 54-52 lead. Mars Hill called a timeout with eight seconds to play to set up a final play, but Polite would lose the ball before getting off a shot and Catawba took the two-point victory.
Catawba finished the game with 31 turnovers, but helped force 26 from the Lions. The Indians held a 38-24 edge on the boards.
Houston was the only Catawba player to reach double figures with 14 points. The sophomore added six rebounds and five assists. Freshman Dominick Reid (Charlotte, NC/Cannon School), who joined Houston on the all-tournament team had eight points and six rebounds. Making the all-tournament team for Mars Hill was Polite (15 points) and Jamarl Glen (18 points). Wingate’s Sean Barnette rounded out the team.
Catawba built an early 22-10 following a three-point play by Rob Fields (Orangeburg, SC/Orangeburg-Wilkerson HS) with 11 minutes left in the first half. The Indians would go cold over the next five minutes and Mars Hill clawed within 22-16 before Houston’s jumper at the 6:13 mark. The Loins would go nearly four minutes from there without a point as Catawba moved ahead 26-16.
Catawba led 32-22 at the break. The Lions hit on just seven-of-22 (31.8%) in the opening half and were one-of-nine from behind the arc. Glen and Polite did the bulk of the scoring for Mars Hill in the opening half with 10 and nine points, respectively.
The win is the sixth SAC Tournament title for Catawba in seven trips to the championship game. The Indians first loss came last year to Wingate. Catawba will also be making their fourth regional appearance in five years.
Catawba College head coach Jim Baker
“For 34 minutes, our defense was as good as it’s been all year. We were in charge and then, boom, it was gone. Our youth kicked in and then we started feeling sorry for ourselves.”
“You talk about swings in momentum, well that was about as good a swing in all of college basketball. We are glad, tickled to win, but a little relieved, too.”
Mars Hill head coach Terry Rogers
(On the last play): “We were going for the win and shoot the three. Because of the overtime game last night and the time change, we were pretty well spent. I don’t know if we had enough for another overtime game.”
“Our pressure really started to get to them. They are more of an attack team than a finesse team, and sometimes the more you try to play under control, the more mistakes you make.”
“I’m really proud of our kids.”