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Prep Basketball: Carson boys ready to play someone different

CHINA GROVE — Gastonia Ashbrook has three starters who also started in last season’s 3A state-title game against Fayetteville Terry Sanford, but Carson boys basketball coach Brian Perry still is looking forward to Tuesday’s first-round playoff trip.
After going 1-8 in nine games against South Piedmont Conference powerhouses Robinson, Concord, Hickory Ridge and Cox Mill, Carson, which finished fifth in the 10-team league, is thrilled to be playing someone other than one of Cabarrus’ Big Four.
There was speculation before the brackets were released on Saturday that Carson’s first-round matchup might be another game at Concord. Everyone has seen enough of the Spiders, so there was a sense of relief when the opponent was someone else.
Carson is the No. 25 seed in the 3A West bracket. Ashbrook (15-12), which just won the Big South Conference Tournament for coach Richard Carsner, is seeded No. 8.
Gametime is expected to be 7:30 p.m., as it will be the second game of a girls/boys doubleheader.
“Ashbrook is really, really good from everything we’ve been able to see on film and from everything we’ve heard,” Perry said. “But the kids are excited about playing somebody different. When you load up the bus and go play someone you don’t know, that’s when it really feels like you’re in the playoffs. I’ll never forget the trip to Asheville Erwin two years ago (Carson knocked off the No. 1 seed). Playoff road trips are fun. They lead to great memories for the kids.”
Whether Tuesday’s game provides as many fond memories as the bus ride remains to be seen.
Carson (13-12) shoots the ball with range and has four athletic, middle-sized guys, but this is still a very young team. The Cougars rely heavily on sophomore guards Jailen Williams (8.1 points per game) and Cameron Prugh (8.6 ppg.) and sophomore forwards Jamarius Hairston (13.7 ppg.) and Owen White (10.0 ppg.).
The other athletes in the top six are junior forward Brenden Westbrook (10.2 ppg.) and senior center Ryan Bearden (5.7 ppg.).
Ashbrook is led by three seniors. Malik Gingles (6-foot-4) averages 17.5 points and 8.2 rebounds. Point guard Jeff Glenn, a superb athlete who also shines in football for the Green Wave, averages 12.5 points and 5.5 assists. Guard Z’Andre Givens averages 10.1 points.
“They’re not an exceptionally tall team, but their guys are strong and athletic and they push the ball quick,” Perry said. “Gingles is smooth and Glenn is a stocky, rock-solid guy. They attack the rim very hard.”
Carson has capable shot-blockers in Bearden, Hairston and Westbrook, so maybe they can protect the rim without getting in foul trouble.
Carson also will count on Williams, Prugh and White to rain 3-pointers. Williams is small, but he’s made tremendous strides in the last month as a penetrator and scorer.
“He doesn’t back down from anyone,” Perry said. “Even in our last game with Concord, when a lot of guys didn’t play well, he was still going 110 miles an hour.”
White will be dominating on the baseball field shortly after basketball ends, but he’s also proficient in hoops. He made five 3-pointers in a single quarter this season.
All the sophs came up big in the surprising home win against Cox Mill that closed the regular season.
“That was big because no one had beaten any of the top four in our league except when they beat up on each other,” Perry said. “That win gave our guys some confidence.”
Because it shoots the 3-pointer so well and because of the league it plays in, Carson is on pace to break school records for most points scored (68 per game) and most points allowed (69 per game) simultaneously.
The Cougars yielded 94 in a loss to Concord and 96 in a loss to Hickory Ridge, but Carson also has scored more than 80 points five times.
“Obviously, we played in a tough league (seven SPC teams are in the 32-team 3A West bracket),” Perry said. “We went 9-9 in that league, and I really felt like we had an excellent season.”
It will become a sensational season if Carson can win at Ashbrook (15-12). In its playoff history, Carson has won only twice in the first round and once in the second round.
More people will be following Carson than usual because the Cougars are the only Rowan County boys basketball team in the playoffs. Salisbury and North Rowan, always a factor in the 2A playoffs and the second-ranked team in the classification, were sidelined by the NCHSAA after an altercation. West Rowan, East Rowan and South Rowan didn’t qualify for the playoffs.
“We’ve got a very hard game, but we believe we can compete,” Perry said. “We want to have a good showing. It’s sort of crazy, but we are the last show.”

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