A year ago the Carthage boys basketball team won the Neosho Holiday Classic, then started off the conference season with a loss on the road at Branson.

A year ago the Carthage boys basketball team won the Neosho Holiday Classic, then started off the conference season with a loss on the road at Branson.

The Tigers finished third in the Neosho tournament this year, but on Tuesday night at Carthage High School, the Tigers opened the Central Ozarks Conference with a win over the Pirates.

Senior Sam Hilton scored 17 points for Carthage and the Tigers never trailed in a 68-46 victory against Branson that pushes the Tigers top 10-2 overall, 1-0 in conference play and 6-0 at home.

“Last year we were fortunate enough to win the Neosho tournament, we went down to Branson and we felt like we let one get away,” Carthage head coach Steve Ray said. “It really kind of put us in a funk for a couple weeks. We talked the last few days about not letting that pattern repeat itself. I liked how the guys came out. I felt like we missed some opportunities in the first half. The second half we came out and really did a good job. We didn’t let them have that run to get back into it and that’s a credit to our guys.”

Senior Zach Strubberg scored the first three points of the game for Carthage, who rolled to a 16-8 lead after the first quarter behind points from six different Tigers. A basket by senior Desmond Buerge and then four points from senior Dawson Allmoslecher quickly turned that into a 22-8 advantage less than two minutes into the second quarter. With Buerge scoring six points in the quarter, Carthage led by as many as 16 points before the half after a bucket by freshman Jaryd Coss. Branson cut that lead to 12, but Hilton sank two free throws with 35 seconds on the clock and Carthage took a 30-16 advantage into the break.

Junior Nathan Reid put Carthage back up by 16 early in the third after pulling down an offensive rebound and scoring, but Branson battled back and pulled within 10 on a three-point shot by AJ Wiebe. Leading 36-26 with 4:16 left in the third, the Tigers responded with 13-0 run featuring four points from Hilton, baskets by Reid and Coss, a steal and a layup by Allmoslecher and an old-fashioned three-point play by Buerge with 34 seconds remaining.

A three by Brandon Seely brought the Pirates within 20, but Hilton scored with four seconds left in the quarter and Carthage took a 51-29 lead into the final eight minutes of play.

Four points by Coss and a bucket by Strubberg helped Carthage to a 22-point lead with less than five minutes reminaing, then two free throws by Hilton, a point from Buerge, a two-point basket by senior Kyle Reed and a pair of free throws by Allmoslecher gave Carthage a 25-poind cushion.

The lead grew to as many as 20 points after senior Luke Gibson converted two-straight layups, but Thatch Unruh nailed a pair of three pointers and Drew Russell added a free throw in the final 1:12.

Seely scored 15 to lead Branson, Wiebe finished with 13 and Unruh added 11.

After the game, Ray wasn’t just pleased with Hilton’s offense, but also his defensive effort.

“He did a good job on Thatch Unruh, who’s maybe one of the best shooters in the conference,” Ray said. “Thatch got some shots late, but the first half he only had three points and I thought a lot of that was due to Sam’s effort.”

Buerge scored 13 points for Carthage on a night where he was recognized for reaching the 1,000 point milestone last month. Allmoslecher scored eight, Reed and Reid finished with six points apiece, Coss added nine, Strubberg scored five and Gibson finished with four as the Tigers received 21 points off the bench.

“We feel like we’ve got pretty good depth,” Ray said. “A lot of coaches say that and then get into a tough conference game like this and sometimes those guys don’t perform. I thought Jaryd came in and gave us some good minutes. Dawson gave us some great energy. That picks us up a lot and it really helped us out tonight.”

Carthage will host Nevada Thursday night, with junior varsity action beginning at 6 p.m. at Carthage High School.