FLORA — Carroll’s boys basketball team led by single digits for the vast majority of the game on Friday night but ultimately used a dominant fourth quarter to put away Taylor in taking a 58-45 win and clinching at least a share of the Hoosier Heartland Conference title.

A stellar scoring performance from sophomore Owen Duff played a factor in the Class 2A No. 11-ranked Cougars’ 17th straight victory. However, Carroll coach Bodie Bender believed that despite the win, it was not his team’s best showing.

“For us [Friday], I thought it was very ugly,” Bender said, “You got to win an ugly game. Our kids found a way to win and hit big shots in big moments. We still have things to clean up [including] offensive rebounding. We got to continue to clean that up.”

The Cougars (18-1 overall) improved to 7-0 in the HHC. They’ll close conference play against second-place Eastern (5-1) on Feb. 25.

Taylor dropped to 10-11 overall and finished HHC play 5-3.

Taylor coach Dennis Bentzler admitted after the game that in the end, the Titans’ lack of offense proved to be their downfall.

“It just comes down to we can’t score the ball. We struggle to score the ball and we missed free throws. … Offensively, we just take so many bad shots and have empty possessions. Defensively, we battled but Carroll is just really good and well coached,” he said.

The Cougars rushed out to a six-point lead after the first quarter when Owen Duff picked off a Taylor pass, laying it in for an easy bucket.

Owen Duff scored Carroll’s first seven points of the game while Taylor’s Quinten Tucker did the Titans’ heavy lifting, putting together a successful trip to the line followed by two consecutive layups.

Carroll opened the second quarter on a 7-0 run when Jaden Harness found his way into the paint for an easy layup followed by a 3 from the wing. The Cougars’ run was capped off with a Chris Huerta basket from inside.

By the end of the quarter, however, the Titans had battled back, going on a 9-2 run that was highlighted by Jaylen Harris’ 3-pointer at the buzzer to end the half.

The Titans didn’t take their foot off the gas coming out of halftime as they traded baskets with the Cougars in the early stages of the quarter until erupting on an 8-0 run to end the period.

Makhi McGee worked inside during Taylor’s late scoring outburst, finishing around the rim for three consecutive baskets along with a baseline drive by Ryley Gilbert.

The offense dried up in the final eight minutes of play for the Titans and Carroll put the game away with 16 fourth-quarter points along with what Bender believed to be timely shots and ball security.

“We started taking care of the ball,” Bender said, “We started hitting our free throws and then Ethan [Duff] had a big 3 in front of our bench, that was big.”

Owen Duff finished with a game-high 24 points while Jake Skinner finished with 12 and Harness tallied 10.

Harris led Taylor in scoring with 15 followed by Gilbert’s 10.

Carroll is back in action today when it hosts Tri-County (3-11). Taylor plays Elwood (2-17) on Thursday.

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