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Chowan knocks off St. Paul’s

MURFREESBORO – At one point in the final minutes of their Saturday afternoon game with St. Paul’s College, Chowan basketball coach Jim Tribbett turned to the fans behind the team’s bench and nervously said, “Just let us be lucky tonight.”

They didn’t need it. Talent was enough.

Mark Brown hit a pair of free throws and Lando Morrison sealed the win with a slam dunk as the Hawks nipped the Tigers of St. Paul’s College, 72-70, in a game where they never trailed, but kept those same fans on edge for most of the contest.

Chowan’s starting five scored all but two points in the game led by senior Jaleel Nelson who led four Chowan players in double figures with 18 points and nine rebounds. Brown chipped in 17 while seniors Nate Walchuk and Morrison finished with 14 each.

Chowan shot 55 percent for the game, including nearly 62 percent in the second half. They also dropped 14-of-25 free throws to just seven for the Tigers.

With the victory the Hawks collected their fifth win of the year and fourth in Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association play.

George Leseur had a game-high 23 for St. Paul’s.

“They (St. Paul’s) had some real ‘circus’ shots,” said a relieved Tribbett after the game, “and it comes a point where people are really going to challenge us differently because they’re saying, ‘you may be the new guy (in the CIAA) but we’re going to go through you to get where we need to go’.

“For us to be 4-2 in the league,” he added, “when we’re really not playing our best basketball yet is something we’ve got to be pleased with.”

Inconsistent or not, the Hawks’ clutch play helped deliver a win again.

Chowan ran out to a 10-2 lead in the first three minutes of the game and the lead climbed to nine points twice, both times on shots by Nelson; first on a layup and then on jump shot over two defenders in the lane.

But back came the Tigers with one of those off-balanced ‘circus’ jump shots plus a pair of threes and knotted the game at 27-27 with six-and-a-half minutes to go in the period.

However, that was followed up by a St. Paul’s turnover that Morrison finished with a flourish on a thunder dunk rebounding in a miss.

After a Walchuck three-pointer made it 36-30, St. Paul’s reeled off six straight to tie it for the third time with a minute-and-a-half until the break, but Chowan closed the half making 3-of-4 free throws to go into the locker room ahead, 39-36.

Chowan took their first and only double-digit lead of the half four minutes into the second frame, 51-41, on a driving layup by Anton Shoetan – the only time a non-starter scored for the Hawks in the contest. Tribbett also used Nelson some at point guard allowing Walchuck to be free for open set-shot jumpers.

From there Chowan’s lead ebbed and flowed including the Tigers collecting one three-pointer from near mid-court. But the visitors were hurt when swingman Jason Davis, up until then their leading scorer with 12 points, went out with his fifth foul and still four-and-a-half minutes left to play.

Leseur picked up the slack for his teammates and over the next three minutes the Tigers tied it twice, the last one coming at 68-68 with one tick over a minute left in the game.

That’s when Brown’s foul shots and Morrison’s late dunk settled it for Chowan.

“It was a scrappy game,” said Walchuk, “but it’s good we have a core group of guys that can buckle down and take care of what we need to take care of.

“We hit clutch shots and clutch free throws,” he added. “And that was real important.”

“They did a good job of tipping and keeping the ball alive,” said Brown. “Plus shooting all those threes made for long rebounds Lando and I couldn’t get to.”

“A lot of it played like ‘street-ball’,” added Nelson. “As long as we stayed in front of them on defense and got help, we knew we had them.”

Chowan played Elizabeth City State at home Monday night before beginning a two-game road trip to Lincoln of Pennsylvania and Bowie (Md.) State this weekend. They’ll host division rival, Fayetteville State, January 21 in a 7:30 p.m. tip-off.