BY PEDRO VELAZCO KOKOMO TRIBUNE
---- — SHARPSVILLE — Down 47-42 after a Clinton Prairie 3-pointer in the fourth quarter, Carroll’s boys basketball team found itself staring at its biggest deficit of the game.
The Cougars didn’t panic, or deviate from their course at all. They just got sharper.
Carroll responded with a 9-0 run to take the lead and never trailed again in posting a 73-60 victory over Prairie in the opening game of the Class A Tri-Central Sectional on Tuesday night.
Prairie trimmed the lead to 51-50 but Carroll (11-11) delivered a knockout blow with a 15-0 run that started with 3:58 left.
“We just stuck with the game plan, and that was to go inside and make sure they pay for not being able to guard us in the post,” Carroll coach Matt Weaver said. “[Prairie] did a good job of helping in the first half, but we just stayed with it.”
Carroll got a game-high 29-point effort from center Jarin Bush, 20 from post forward Brandon Dillon and another 10 from forward Seth Eldridge as the Cougars moved the ball to make an effort to score in the post, or on layups from a free man in the paint.
“We had a couple guys who had four or five assists from the guard spot and that’s crucial,” Weaver said. Carroll got alert passing from guards Derik Caldwell and Justin Willoughby. “When you have those kinds of numbers and you see that kind of passing, that’s team basketball at its finest.”
To take out Prairie [7-13], Carroll needed to quell the Gophers’ ability to hit from the outside. Kale Morris had four 3s in the first half but just one in the second half. Drew Scott had five treys, all in the second half, but two came in the final 90 seconds after Carroll had established a double-digit lead.
Carroll hit an efficient 27 of 51 from the field and had a 19-of-25 performance at the free-throw line. Carroll was 17 of 19 from the line in the fourth quarter, including four straight technical foul shots from Eldridge. The Prairie bench drew two technical fouls with 2:18 left after a Carroll hoop made the score 57-50.
“We were able to convert at the free-throw line, which is a big improvement for us,” Weaver said. “You’re going to have to hit free throws if you’re going to win the sectional.”
The Cougars outrebounded the Gophers 32-21 with Bush dominating the inside to the tune of 11 boards. Jared Miller came off the bench to take another six, and Willoughby and Eldridge each had five.
Morris had 19 points for Prairie, and Scott 15.
ROSSVILLE 75, TRI-CENTRAL 66
Hoosier Heartland Conference champion Rossville raced to a 14-3 lead in the opening five minutes of the first quarter. The Hornets maintained a lead of at least four points and frequently pushed the lead out to double digits, giving themselves a cushion as TC staged repeated runs in short periods thanks to uptempo offense and pressure defense.
Rossville (14-8) led 57-43 to start the final frame. Tri-Central (9-10) cut the lead to 61-56 on a bucket by Bryce Dowell on an inbounds play, and shortly thereafter trimmed it to 65-61 on a 3-pointer by Cody Howell with 3:45 left, but couldn’t get closer.
“We knew we were going to have to pressure and cause some turnovers and we wanted to make it a little bit of a helter skelter-type game,” TC coach Kyle Zahn said. Rossville had nine turnovers in the fourth quarter. “We were able to cause some turnovers; I think they were a little timid about defending their lead and we were able to make a run at them, unfortunately we weren’t able to close it off.”
The Hornets were dangerous up front and in the backcourt. Forward Clayton Howard had 20 points on 9-of-9 shooting and forward E.T. Brenneman had a dozen points. Guard Austin Miller scored a game-high 22 points and wing guard Brandon Tonsoni added 15. Tonsoni and Brenneman each had nine rebounds as Rossville grabbed a dozen more boards than TC.
“They’re a good team,” Zahn said. “I was frustrated [that] I thought they really controlled the boards and they got some second chances when we needed to get stops, and we weren’t able to contain their penetration consistently. They were able to get to the rim too often.”
Cody Howell led TC with 17 points, Colton Leininger added a dozen off the bench, Dillon Smith scored seven and Seth Blunck and reserve Blake Dowell each had eight. Blunck had six rebounds to lead the Trojans.