Carthage’s best start so far this year put Mt. Vernon in an early hole, and the Tigers were able to hold off a feisty Mountaineers team and a barrage of three pointers in the second half to stay perfect at home with a 72-63 victory Tuesday night.
Carthage opened the game on a 16-0 run featuring a steal and slam dunk by junior Nathan Reid, a baseline drive and a one-handed jam by senior Desmond Buerge and a pair of three pointers by senior Sam Hilton.
Mt. Vernon, meanwhile, didn’t score its first basket until more than four minutes had elapsed, and had no answers early on for Buerge and Carthage’s defensive pressure. Buerge’s 17 points in the first quarter helped the Tigers to a 29-10 advantage heading into the second.
“Desmond got off to a great start, but so many other guys really helped us,” Carthage head coach Steve Ray said. “Sam Hilton came out really well and gave us a big lift. Zach Strubberg and Jaryd Coss gave us great energy early. Kyle (Reed) ran a pretty clean game. That was the best start we’ve gotten off to all year and we needed it tonight.”
The Mountaineers would make things interesting before the half, though.
Coss, a freshman, scored with 6:42 left in the second to put the Tigers ahead by 21 points, but Mt. Vernon chipped away at the lead and pulled with 14 points, 42-28, after scoring the last five points of the half.
Buerge put the Tigers back up by 18 early in the third on an alley-oop from senior Kyle Reed, but the Mountaineers turned to the long ball with much success. Mt. Vernon, which made just four shots from behind the arc in the first half, converted on four more in just a two-minute span in the third quarter to pull within eight points at 50-42.
Buerge immediately answered with a three of his own at the 3:11 mark, and Jaryd Coss scored three points the old-fashioned way less than minute later to give the Tigers a 12-point advantage, but Mt. Vernon struck from long range again before Buerge made a basket with seven seconds left in the quarter and Carthage held a 58-47 lead.
Mt. Vernon got within seven points with 6:49 left in the game, 58-51, but Carthage responded with an 11-2 run that included six points from Buerge, four from Reed and a free throw by Reid.
Buerge’s dunk, again on another beautiful alley-oop pass from Reed, gave Carthage a 69-53 lead with just more than a minute to play.
“I was real proud of our guys because as a coach you want to make sure our guys understand what a big game that is playing against a state-ranked team,” Ray said. “They really focused on it and came out with a ton of energy. Give Mt. Vernon a ton of credit. They could have easily laid down, but they kept fighting and by the fourth quarter it was a close game and our guys had to shoot well down the stretch.”
Mt. Vernon, which entered the game ranked ninth in Class 3, is the first state-ranked opponent the Tigers have defeated since 2008. For Ray, the victory was a tinge bittersweet.
“It’s always a nice win,” he said. “I played for coach (Skip) Brock at Mt. Vernon, so anytime you play against one of his teams you know they’re going to be prepared and they’re going to fight to the final buzzer. It’s always kind of bittersweet to beat those guys, but more importantly, you feel good because you know you beat a really, really good team, a well-prepared team.”
Buerge led all scorers with 35 points, while Reid had 11 and Hilton scored 10. Coss finished with nine, Reed had six and Luke Gibson added a point.
Carthage now stands at 18-3 on the season and 9-0 at home, and things won’t get any easier for the Tigers with a road game at Republic looming Friday.
“That’s a huge game,” Ray said. “That’s going to be a critical one for us. A chance to get our third conference win in a tough environment.”
In junior varsity action Tuesday night, Carthage defeated Mt. Vernon 48-41.
The Tigers trailed 12-10 after the first quarter and 29-28 at halftime before taking a 41-38 lead after three quarters.
Anthony Turk led Carthage with 14 points, Jonathan Terry added 12 and Gabe Franklin scored nine.