As the teams left the court and headed to the locker rooms at halftime Thursday night, it was still a close game.
Carthage had led by as many as seven points in the first half before an 8-0 run for Nevada put the visiting Tigers ahead by a point. Luckily for Carthage, senior Kyle Reed made a pair of free throws and junior Nathan Reid scored the last basket of the half to give Carthage a 25-22 lead after two quarters.
The third quarter was a different story, however. The Tigers started with a 15-2 run and outscored Nevada 24-6 in the quarter to propel Carthage to a 61-42 home victory, an 11-2 overall record and a perfect 7-0 mark at home.
“They are really well coached,” Carthage head coach Steve Ray said of John McNeley’s Tigers. “They’ve got a lot of good pieces and the thing we talked about in practice yesterday and walk through today was they have one skill that covers up a lot of deficiencies and that is they can make shots. Early in the game, Silas Smith made some good-looking shots. He kind of stretched us out a little bit and had 11 points in the first half.
“We knew we were going to be in for a dogfight, but I really liked the way the guys executed down the stretch,” Ray said. “We took a game that was three or four possessions and stretched it out to six or seven possessions and put a lot of pressure on them to have to make really difficult plays. That was good to see. That’s what winning teams do, they find a way to stretch those leads out and protect them.”
The first quarter started off slow for both teams. Carthage led 4-0 after two early buckets by senior Sam Hilton, but every time the Tigers tried to build a lead, Nevada answered right back. A three pointer by Smith brought Nevada within a point, and after senior Desmond Buerge grabbed and offensive rebound and scored to give Carthage a 6-3 lead, it was Smith scoring again to cut it back to one. It wasn’t until senior Luke Gibson scored with 2:39 remaining and freshman Jaryd Coss hit the back end of a trip to the free throw line that the Tigers were able to get a little bit of breathing room.
It didn’t last long, though.
Buerge hit two free throws 11 seconds into the second to put Carthage up by six, but Nevada quickly closed the gap to two. Buerge scored with 6:30 left in the half and converted the three-point play after being fouled, then Reid put Carthage up 18-11 with a basket at the 5:40 mark.
Smith sank another three with 4:29 left in the half, Jamin Brandt scored 23 seconds later, then a three pointer by Austin Herdliska gave Nevada a 19-18 advantage.
Page 2 of 2 - Hilton added a three of his own to reclaim the lead, but Smith answered promptly with another three to give Nevada a 22-21 lead. Reed’s free throws and Reid’s basket put Carthage on top by three points and capped the scoring for the half, which saw no points scored in the final 1:57.
The third quarter would ease any fears of an upset on Carthage’s home court. Buerge scored two points, Hilton hit another three pointer, senior Zach Strubberg added two points, Buerge made a three, Reid earned three points the old fashioned way and Buerge scored again with 4:29 remaining to put the Tigers up 40-24. Brandt scored the only points for Nevada in the stretch.
Alex Payne cut the lead to 14 with a basket at the 4:16 mark, but the Tigers responded with another run, featuring five points from Buerge and baskets by Reid and two free throws by Coss. That put Carthage up by 23, and though Nevada got within 16 points in the fourth, it was never close.
“Defensively they gave us a lot of different looks,” Ray said. “They did a good job trying to recognize where we were trying to score from.
“The second half we really tried to keep it simple,” he said. “Try to spread the floor so we could get some hard cuts and then try to drive the ball off those cuts.”
And the Tigers were able to build their second-half leads despite having a smaller rotation than Nevada, who brought in five fresh players every few minutes. That also presented problems for the Carthage defense, tasked with keeping track of Smith and the other Nevada sharpshooters.
“I thought our communication was good,” Ray said. “We were worried about that. We knew no matter who was in the game we needed to be matched up with Smith, and we wanted to make sure we had good matchups with Bryson and Joseph Ferry because those guys can score the basketball. In the second half whenever they would sub a group we would go zone just to get our guys locked in. We don’t play a lot of zone, but when we did I thought it was helpful for us.”
Buerge led all scorers with 23 points in the game. Hilton added 10, Reid finished with eight and Strubberg scored six. Gibson and Reed each tallied four, Coss scored three and senior Clay Lovekamp scored two points on the last basket of the game, a beautiful driving layup with 43 seconds left in the fourth.
Nevada, which received points from 10 players, was led by Smith’s 13 points. Bryson finished with seven.
Now for the Tigers comes a long road trip Saturday to Lebanon, where Carthage will begin play at 5 p.m.
“It’s going to be a mental and physical test,” Ray said. “Lebanon’s a physical, strong team. It’s a long trip up there on a Saturday. I think our guys understand the importance of that game. It’s a team that came in and beat us on our floor last year.”