CARTHAGE, Mo. — After struggling to convert from the floor for much of the first half, Carthage found its rhythm offensively in the second half and caught fire from 3-point land down the stretch to pull away for a 58-44 win over Monett in the Tigers’ season opener on Tuesday.
Carthage trailed after the first and second quarters before taking a slim one-point lead into the fourth period. The Tigers (1-0) started the final eight minutes on a 7-0 run before erupting from the 3-point line down the stretch, knocking down six total shots from beyond the arc to build a double-digit lead en route to the comfortable win.
“I told these guys that it wasn’t going to be perfect,” Carthage coach Nathan Morris said after the season-opening win. “I really feel like in the first quarter that we got good looks at the rim. We wanted our guys who have been at practice to hold us steady, but they really struggled in the first quarter. … I told them just to stay in the fight. Credit to Monett for knowing that we would be a little rusty and forcing us to take a lot of jump shots that we missed.
“We showed what we can be in the second half. … To see the improvement throughout one game is big, and it’s probably not the worst thing in the world for us to have to grit out a win on the first night.”
Sophomore G Trent Yates was the catalyst for the four-quarter surge from long range, drilling four 3-balls down the stretch to finish with 16 points in the win as the Tigers’ second-leading scorer.
“I am really proud of Trent and the way he stepped up,” Morris said. “We have been begging him to step into the moment and he did a heck of a job with that tonight.”
Senior swingman Clay Kinder, who is just joining the team after the football season, added a pair of 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and finished with eight points in the period and 13 points in the win.
Junior G Justin Ray led the Tigers in scoring with 20 points, 12 of which came in the second half. Senior G Max Templeman finished with nine points in the win.
Monett was led in scoring by Jason Garner’s 18 points, while Blaine Salsman finished with 10.
After scoring just four points in the first period, Carthage went into the intermission trailing 18-15 after scoring nine of those 15 points in the final three minutes of the first half. Down 13-7, the Tigers trimmed the lead to 16-15 after getting 3-pointers from Yates, Kinder and Ray, off the assist from Yates. Monett pushed the lead back to three, 18-15, when Isaiah Meeks scored inside before time expired in the half.
“(We were fortunate) to come in down three at half after how poorly we knew we played offensively,” Morris said. “I think our guys were confident in knowing that wasn’t going to take place again. I thought pressuring in our zone press in the second half really got us going.”
Carthage and Monett exchanged the lead three times in the third quarter, with the Tigers holding a slim 30-29 cushion to start the final eight minutes of play. The Tigers opened the third quarter on a 7-3 run, highlighted by several forced turnovers in the press on defense in addition to a 3-pointer and a score on the drive from Ray, to take their first lead of the game.
Monett answered back with a driving score from Marcus Young to regain the advantage before Ethan Kutz scored inside to push the lead to three for the Cubs, 25-22.
Carthage retook the lead after Templeman drove the lane for a bucket with two minutes left in the quarter to trim the lead to one left before Ray added a pair from the charity stripe to give the Tigers a 28-27 advantage before ultimately going into the final eight minutes with a 30-29 advantage.
Carthage took control of the contest from the onset of the fourth quarter. The Tigers went back to the trap on defense to force several early turnovers while scoring the first seven points of the period behind a steal and an old-fashioned three-point play from Ray, two free throws from Templeman and an inside bucket from Kinder for a 37-29 lead with six minutes left.
“That speaks to the kids,” Morris said. “They fought tooth and nail to finally get the lead after trailing for the major part of two and a half quarters and they didn’t relinquish. They got some big stops, rebounded the ball better and earned some deflections. If we are going to be highly competitive like we were last year, we are going to have to earn deflections knowing that we are not the biggest team in the world.
“Our strength of having four guards on the court most of the time is being able to expose people offensively and be active in the zone press. It can be a weakness at times, having four guards, but if we can keep playing with speed and athleticism and using it to our advantage, it will help us down the road.”
After Monett converted for two charities, it started raining 3s for the Tigers, who made six consecutive shots from 3-point land to put the game out of reach. Yates made his first of the quarter for a 40-31 lead before burying a second on the next trip down to push the margin to 10 points for the first time, 43-33, with 4:40 left in regulation. Templeman earned a steal and ultimately the assist on Yates’ third straight 3-ball to push the lead to 46-33. Carthage built the lead up to 55-38 after two 3-pointers from Kinder sandwiched around Yates’ fourth trey of the period to pull away for good.
The Tigers host the 76th annual Carthage Invitational from Dec. 8-10.