A sensational first half of basketball nearly went to waste Thursday evening in the opening game of the NCCAA Mid-East Regional. But Hiwassee sophomore Cody Carson was not about to let a historic moment pass.
The Tigers, who came into the tournament with a misleading 7-23 record, went wire-to-wire in claiming a 65-53 victory over the Covenant College Scots. Their inability to put away opponents in the regular season reared up its ugly head again.
Late in the first half, the game was virtually over as a barrage of 3-point field goals left Covenant in the dust of a 38-18 deficit. But a 47 percent shooting first half gave way to a dismal 16 percent (4 of 25) in the second as the Tigers hit all the wrong buttons as their lead dwindled.
"We expected to be a little flat in the second half after playing so well in the first," said Hiwassee coach Rodney Nelson. "But not that flat, and not for that long."
Covenant guard Rosbie Mutcherson, who had only two points at intermission, hit a 3-pointer early in the second half and went on to score 11 of his 13 points to spark the Covenant comeback. It took less than seven minutes to cut the lead in half, 41-31, on a Joe DeVries put back.
Up stepped Carson. The sophomore out of Oneida was a tornado in sneakers for the final 13 minutes, scoring 14 of his team's next 22 points. That included a bushel basket of free throws as he hit 15 of 18 in the game, 13 coming in the second half.
"But what about his steals, what about his rebounds?" asked Nelson. "I can't wait to see the stat sheet. He really got after the loose balls in the second half and he did a good job of blocking out."
He was not disappointed as what he saw. In addition to his 22 points, he logged five steals and six rebounds – each category also team best.
But the Scots did not go away. Hiwassee had rebuilt its lead to 17, 53-36, with just under nine minutes to play. But a Mutcherson three-point play began their best run of the night, a run of eight straight to get below 10 with over six minutes to go.
Both teams called time out to calm nerves and set lineups. The net effect was to put Hiwassee back on track as the Tigers went on a 9-2 run that included seven free throws. In fact, Hiwassee failed to hit a field goal over the final 4:30, but hit seven straight foul shots to cheat the hangman long enough to secure the win.
"They shot great to start the game, better than they've shot all year (6 of 16 3-pointers, to be specific)," said Covenant coach Kyle Taylor. "We talked about getting a hand up in their face and did a better job of it in the second half
While the abrupt end to the season is an obvious disappointment, there is much to the 2012-13 season that Taylor is taking to the bank.
"This was the program's first wining record since the 98-99 season," he said of the 14-12 finish "A winning record was our main preseason goal this year.. "We've got six really good freshmen and sophomores coming back next year. We lose six seniors, but only two of them played regularly. Next season should be something worth talking about."
For Hiwassee, which takes on top-seeded Mid-Continent University Friday night at 6, Justin Browner added 11 and Joel Bailey 10 off the bench. The Scots got 13 points each from Mutcherson and Colton McGriff and 11 from Chris Boyd. Also for the Scots, Sam Bowman had only five points but 18 rebounds.
HIWASSEE 65, COVENANT 53
HIWASSEE (65) – Boyd 4, Cody Carson 22, Justin Browner 11, Carpenter 9, Golden 8, T. High, Meadows. Davidson 1, Joel Bailey 10
COVENANT (53) – Frierson, Rosbie Mutcherson 13, Chris Boyd 11, Colton McGriff 13, Danek 4, Delandy, De Dulk, Moss 1, Turner, Sears 2, Chaney, DeVries 4, Bowman 5, Engbers 1.
Halftime: Hiwassee, 38-20. 3-point goals: Hiw. 7 (Carpenter 3, Browner 2, Carson, Bailey); Cov. 3 (Mutcherson 2, McGriff). Records: Hiwassee 8-23; Covenant 14-12.