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Unified Carthage clinches share of division


CARTHAGE — Unselfishness and balanced scoring have fit together nicely for the high-flying Carthage boys’ basketball team.

Sharing the ball has made the Comets’ offense very efficient. And the fact that all five starters have led the team in scoring at least once this year makes them hard to defend.

Tuesday night’s 66-48 Frontier League “A’’ Division win over Indian River was just the latest example of why coach Jeff Ventiquattro’s club has won nine straight games, and clinched at least a share of the division title with the victory. Four players hit double figures, led by sophomore Peyton McLaurin with 17 points, as Carthage (12-1 overall, 8-1 league) pulled away in the second half after holding a tenuous two-point halftime lead.

“It’s nice to know that one or two guys don’t have to carry the load, and that everybody can contribute,’’ said Carthage junior forward Walter Jeter, who scored 14 points and hauled down 15 big rebounds. “It makes you want to make that extra pass to find the open guy because you know it’s going to be an easier basket.’’

Junior Keyan Pinnock added 13 points, the lone senior, Ben Martin, contributed 11 points and eight rebounds, and junior Andrew Smith hit for nine points for Carthage, ranked 25th in the state in Class A this week.

Ventiquattro knows he has something special in this cohesive group.

“The two big guys (Martin, Jeter) are controlling the inside, Keyan has given us another dimension with his ability to get to the basket, Peyton is learning how to score besides making 3-pointers, and Andrew just a lot of little things to help us win,’’ Ventiquattro said. “And for the most part, our defense has been really good. Tonight’s second half defensive effort was a really gritty performance.’’

The Warriors (7-4, 6-4) hung around the first half because they worked the ball inside the Carthage 2-3 zone, attacked the boards and got enough easy buckets to stay within 26-24 at halftime.

But Carthage took away the inside scoring the second half, allowing just nine points in the third quarter, while the Comets’ offense generated 21 points to take a 47-33 lead.

“All the things we did well the first half to be in the game we didn’t do the second half,’’ said Indian River coach Tim Callahan. “And every mistake we made, they made us pay.’’

Jeter hit a 3-pointer and two inside hoops, Smith had a 3-pointer and a driving bucket, and Martin a follow shot over the final four minutes of the third quarter as Carthage outscored Indian River 13-4.

Martin then scored six consecutive points to begin the fourth quarter, and the Warriors managed just two points in the opening four minutes of the period.

“In the tunnel at halftime we talked about playing better defense the third quarter and not allowing them to score so easily,’’ said Jeter, one of three starters averaging in double figures. “Our defense has been solid all season, even when the offense is not clicking.’’

Junior Shelton Williams, who led all scorers with 25 points, was the only consistent offensive force for Indian River.

Malik Tillman scored six first-quarter points, but did not score after that. And sharpshooting Justin Mattingly had a rough game from the 3-point line, going just 3 of 12.

“We need a couple of other guys to step up and help Shelton,’’ Callahan said. “That’s what makes Carthage so tough. They’ve five guys who can score on a consistent basis.’’

Ventiquattro said for Carthage to take the next step in its progress — a long run in the sectionals — the Comets must be able to “handle the physical defenses we’ll see and do an even better job rebounding and on the boards.”

Said Jeter: “I don’t think we’ve even come close to our potential, so I see us getting even better before the season is over.”

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