By Zack Klemme - CNHI News Service
March 5, 2014 —
East Carter may be like the proverbial late bloomer, but that’s just fine with the Raiders.
They’ve won two or more games consecutively on only three occasions all season. One of those stretches is right now, as East Carter will go into the 16th Region Tournament as 62nd District champions after dropping Elliott County 63-49 on Friday night at Morgan County’s Veterans Memorial Gymnasium.
So, are the Raiders peaking at the right time?
“There’s no doubt,” coach Brandon Baker said. “It’s obvious tonight that the team has really come together, really pushed each other and challenged each other.”
East Carter used a 16-0 run encompassing the final 2:15 of the first quarter and the first 90 seconds of the second to go ahead for good. Senior Cole Brammer said defensive effort keyed that run and called that “the name of the game.”
The Lions did get within two twice midway through the third period, but were never level again.
Connor Greene led the Raiders (15-13) with 20 points. He scored 10 of them in the fourth quarter, including nailing 8 of 10 free throws during the final eight minutes and 12 of 15 overall.
“He played super,” Baker said. “Played very level-headed, played calm and collected, knew how to play tonight. He just knew what he wanted to do. He wasn’t going to settle for how they were guarding him. He was going to still play the way he wanted and stepped up and knocked free throws down.”
Cameron Sparks netted 12 points and Brammer chipped in 10 for East Carter, which shot 20-for-39, or 51.3 percent, from the field.
Landon Griffith led Elliott County (18-9) with 10 points. But he was the only Lion in double figures as Elliott County was held 13.7 points under its per-game average.
“We never really got settled, and I don’t think we played with the aggressiveness we played with all season on the defensive side or the offensive side,” Lions coach Greg Adkins said. “We (weren’t) looking to attack. It wasn’t the team we’ve seen play all season.”
East Carter kept Elliott County’s offense guessing while the Raiders built their lead.
“We mixed defenses there,” Baker said. “We gave them two or three different looks, because they’re very good offensively. They’re very skilled, (and) they can score it in so many ways. We didn’t want them to get comfortable.”
That allowed the Raiders to reel off 16 straight points to turn a four-point deficit into a 12-point advantage.
Bradley Marsh canned a 3-pointer and then scored an uncontested transition layup to jumpstart that run, and he scored again on the break for a 24-12 edge with 6:33 to go in the second quarter.
The Lions used a 10-4 run to cut their deficit to climb to within 35-33 with 3:55 left in the third quarter after Griffith’s two charity tosses.
But the Raiders scored eight straight — on Brammer’s trey, Greene’s drive and Sparks’ and-1 — and led by at least eight from then on.
East Carter was up 47-37 entering the fourth quarter, and merely extended that lead with its charity tosses. That success in the clutch confirmed to Baker his team is getting it.
“Coaching’s all about, you want your players to experience success, and when they do, that’s the satisfaction of coaching,” he said. “There’s nothing greater.”
The Lions had swept the regular season series from the Raiders, winning 71-63 on Dec. 5 in Sandy Hook and 68-59 on Jan. 14 in Grayson. Adkins agreed East Carter may have been looking to prove a point.
“They clearly wanted it more,” he said. “They made the plays when they had to make them early on. I thought the intensity on the defensive side was good. Got to give them credit.”
Both teams have a clean slate headed to Morehead.
“Next week everybody’s in a situation where if you win three, you’ve got an opportunity to go to the state tournament,” Adkins said. “Our program’s done that in the past. These kids have been around when that happened. That’s where we want to be.”
Added Baker: “It’s going to be a challenge for us no matter what. We’re just tickled to death to be there. We’re going to scrap around and see if we can take advantage of it and see what happens.”