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BOYS HOOPS: Carthage struggles from perimeter in loss to Sparta

Lucas Davis

CARTHAGE, Mo. — Carthage struggled from the perimeter from the onset and couldn’t climb out of the early hole, with Class 3 seventh-ranked Sparta never relinquishing the lead in a 43-33 win on Friday night in the Tigers’ final home game of the 2023 year.

“His game plan was phenomenal,” Carthage coach Nathan Morris said of Sparta coach Deric Link. “They have played some smaller schools, so we weren’t really sure how they were going to come in and defend us. Their matchup zone with (Jacob Lafferty) in the middle really affected us. I thought we were unsure against it early on, and I don’t think the shots that we took early were confident shots that our group is used to taking. Later in the game, we had better rhythm shots but I think at that point, we were mentally and physically exhausted fighting against their matchup zone.”

Sparta (7-0) found its footing on the offensive end early against the Tigers, outscoring Carthage 12-7 in the first period to take the momentum. 

Walker Loveland (four points) and Jacob Lafferty (eight points, including one 3-pointer), a 6-foot-5 forward, combined to score all of the Trojans’ points. 

It was a struggle on the offensive end for Carthage (3-2), which started off cold from the perimeter in the first half, failing to convert several open looks outside, particularly in the opening stanza. 

“That is a team we need to be,” Morris said about his team knocking down open looks from range when given the opportunity. “We started out hot against Webb City (in the Carthage Invitational championship game) but we didn’t start hot tonight and I think it affected us. … We were a little timid to start and were playing from behind the whole night and never really got into a rhythm.”

Carthage did get a 3-ball from junior Trent Yates in the first quarter, coupled with a score on the inside by senior Jack Ryder, but looked for other ways to improve the scoring output in the second period to prevent the game getting out of reach. That meant doing the dirty work—rebounding, coming up with 50-50 balls and getting the ball inside.

“We changed it up offensively and got the ball to the middle and attacked,” Morris said. “I was proud of their effort in the second quarter, and again down the stretch in the fourth. It was two teams battling like crazy.”

Sparta pushed its lead to a half-high eight points, 20-12, off an offensive rebound and a putback from LeeAnthony Mayes before Carthage with less than three minutes to play before Carthage answered with a floater on the drove from senior Justin Ray, a score on a baseline drive from junior Kruz Castor and a make from the charity stripe to cut the deficit to 20-17 with 90 seconds left in the half, ultimately trailing five at the intermission, 22-17.

The Trojans pushed the lead to nine twice in the third quarter, including taking a 35-26 lead into the final eight minutes after closing the third period on a 6-0 run with two buckets from Lovelnd and a hoop from Lafferty. 

“This was the first game where I saw some mental fatigue on our guys’ faces,” Morris said. “I think we got a little defeated by the shots that we normally take, and practice over and over and over at game speed, that weren’t falling.”

Sparta scored the first basket two and a half minutes into the fourth quarter on a bucket from Lafferty to push the lead to double digits for the first time.

Carthage cut the lead to seven, 37-30, on a four-point play from Ray, who was fouled on a 3-ball in transition and made the ensuing and-1 free throw, with 5:06 left in regulation, but that was the final field goal from the Tigers until Ray made another 3-pointer from the top of the key with 1:07 left to again cut the deficit to seven, 40-33, but that would be as close as Carthage would get to the lead.

“They played at their pace,” Morris said of the limited scoring in the fourth quarter. “They did what they wanted to do and kind of forced us into situations we weren’t comfortable in.” 

Despite the struggles on offense, Morris was pleased with the Tigers on the defensive end. Carthage held Sparta, which averages 68.5 points per game, to a season-low 43 points. 

Lafferty, who was held to less than 30 points for the first time this season, finished with a game-high 24 points and was the only Trojan to score in double figures. Loveland and Mayes each had six

Ray finished with a team-high 14 points, while Yates also finished in double figures with 10 points. 

Carthage takes part in the Hy-Vee 12 Courts of Christmas Shootout 


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