HICKORY, NC -- In a game that saw six lead changes in the final four minutes, Catawba held off Tusculum to claim the South Atlantic Conference Men's Basketball Tournament Championship with a 63-61 victory on Sunday afternoon at the Multipurpose Facility at Catawba Valley Community College. With the win, the Catawba Indians (21-9) claim the league's automatic bid to the NCAA II South Atlantic Regional Tournament. Tusculum (20-10) will await word on an at-large bid.
The fourth-seeded Indians scored its second straight tournament title, both by two points, and their seventh overall. Dominick Reid sank two free throws with nine seconds to play to put Catawba on top 62-61. After a missed shot by the Pioneers, who were seeded third, Cliff Burns grabbed the rebound and was fouled with 0.2 seconds left. He added a free throw for the final margin.
Tusculum overcame an eight-point deficit in the final eight minutes and twice took one-point leads in the final minute. Kyle Moore gave the Pioneers a 58-57 edge on a three-pointer with 49 seconds. Catawba went back on top when tournament MVP Antonio Houston grabbed an offense rebound and converted a three-point play with 33 seconds to go, giving Catawba a 60-58 edge.
Catawba's Donald Rutherford shoots for two of his 16 points against Tusculum in the championship game on Sunday.
Wes Taylor again gave the Pioneers a lead on a three-point play with 16 seconds remaining. That set up Reid, who sank the winning free throws.
Catawba led by six out of the gates at 10-4, but Tusculum would lead much of the half, taking a 24-17 edge with just over two minutes left in the opening stanza. The Pioneers led 26-23 at the half. Catawba surged ahead early in the second half, using an 8-0 run to go ahead 33-30 with 16:20 left. The Indians held the lead until a layup by Moore with 3:31 to go set up the back-and-forth finish.
Houston led Catawba with 16 points with Rob Fields coming off the bench to add 14. Burns posted a double-double with 12 points and 14 rebounds. Moore led all scorers with 18 points for the Pioneers. Josh Bennett added 11 points.
Neither team shot well. Catawba made just 36.5% with Tusculum hitting on 37%. Catawba held a 40-31 edge on the boards. Tusculum made five turnovers, half as many miscues as the Indians.
Reid joined Houston on the all-tournament team for Catawba. Moore and Bennett represented Tusculum on the team. Newberry's Clemente Martin rounded out the squad.
Tusculum College head coach Jim Boone:
"This was a tough game and a tremendous battle between two teams determined to find a way to win. I could not be more proud of my team for how hard they played. It was a heck of a game. I wish it would have ended up differently in the last 50 seconds, but it is a good life lesson. Sometimes life is not fair.
This was our third demanding game of the week. Catawba did a good job of defending us on the arc.
Catawba head coach Jim Baker
I'm proud of the way our guys hung in there. I thought our defensive effort was very good. Tusculum is hard to play with all their screens.
Last year we had that big lead and blew it. We just had to step it up and get it done. Even when we were down today, I had a calm feeling. Our kids have been here before and we came up with a big play. They did not panic. Last year, against Mars Hill, they panicked a little bit.
CATAWBA 63, TUSCULUM 61
Houston, Antonio 5-11 4-5 16; Fields, Rob 4-9 5-5 14; Burns, Cliff 4-8 4-8 12; Reid, Dominick 2-11 6-6 10; Rutherford, Donald 3-7 2-2 8; Rose, Isaac 1-5 0-0 3; Tamer, Matt 0-0 0-0 0; Shoemaker, Trey 0-0 0-0 0; Magnusson, Finnur 0-1 0-0 0; Williams, Donzell 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-52 21-26 63.
Moore, Kyle 5-12 5-6 18; Bennett, Josh 4-9 3-6 11; Taylor, Wes 3-8 3-3 9; Troutman, Rob 3-8 2-2 8; Troutman, Ryan 2-11 3-4 7; Hobbs, Taylor 3-4 0-0 6; Boone, Jimmy 0-2 2-2 2; Klempin, Tommy 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-54 18-23 61.
Catawba....................... 23 40 - 63
Tusculum...................... 26 35 - 61
3-point goals--Catawba 4-15 (Houston, Antonio 2-4; Fields, Rob 1-3; Rose, Isaac 1-2; Magnusson, Finnur 0-1; Reid, Dominick 0-5), Tusculum 3-17 (Moore, Kyle 3-7; Taylor, Wes 0-3; Troutman, Rob 0-2; Troutman, Ryan 0-5). Fouled out--Catawba-None, Tusculum-Bennett, Josh; Troutman, Ryan. Rebounds- Catawba 40 (Burns, Cliff 14), Tusculum 31 (Troutman, Ryan 7). Assists--Catawba 8 (Reid, Dominick 4), Tusculum 15 (Moore, Kyle 6). Total fouls--Catawba 21, Tusculum 19. Technical fouls--Catawba-None, Tusculum-None. A-489
Catawba wins SAC Tournament Championship