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Big finish lifts Carson over Hickory Ridge

By David Shaw
sports@salisburypost.com

CHINA GROVE —For openers, Jailen Williams was the one.

The Carson senior kicked off the season by converting six consecutive free throws in the final minute Monday night, helping the Cougars cement a 73-66 victory over visiting Hickory Ridge.

“Those were big-time free throws,” coach Brian Perry said Carson used a 13-2 finishing kick to prevail. “I don’t think he had the best game. He was disappointed in some of the plays he made throughout the game, but he got up there in the end and was just clutch. Big-time finish by him and all of our guys.”

Williams scored only eight points and never made a basket, but seven points came in the final quarter when Carson scrambled from a late deficit. Hickory Ridge (0-2) trailed 26-10 late in the first period before surging in front, 64-60, on Michael Bagnasco’s third 3-pointer of the fourth quarter.

“We didn’t give up,” said HR coach Robert Machado. “We’ve got a young squad and for us to be down 16 or 18, that was a great comeback. But Carson has some good players who made plays down the stretch.”

Players like Williams, who worked off picks by teammates Cole Perry and Jamarius Hairston to penetrate and draw fouls.

“We just had to keep our cool,” Williams said. “We had to stay calm and stay focused.”

Coach Perry felt likewise and called a crucial timeout with 2:44 to play.

“We just wanted to calm everybody down and remind them we had plenty of time,” he said. “A four-point lead isn’t that hard to overcome with that much time on the clock.”

Carson’s comeback began when Hairston scored on a twisting layup, was fouled by HR’s Darian Bell and sank the ensuing free throw with 2:36 remaining. And once Bulls’ junior Garrett Hien hit a layup to make it 66-63, the Cougars scored the game’s last 1o points to pull away.”

“We’ve got a pretty experienced team,” said Carson senior Cameron Prugh. “There are lot of guys here I know can make shots. But there’s no one else I’d rather see taking those free throws at the end of the game than Jailen Williams. He’s been clutch since we started playing together in seventh grade.”

Before he went to the line, Williams made a spectacular defensive play — stealing the ball deep in Hickory Ridge territory and tossing a long outlet pass to Cole Perry for a breakaway layup that put Carson in front, 67-66, with 1:46 to go. “When we hit shots and start getting stops like that, we can be one of the best teams in the county,” Hairston said after netting a game-high 21 points. “We picked it up and brought it home.”

Williams sealed the verdict by draining a pair of free throws with 49.1, 26.5 and finally 13.9 seconds to play.

“I had to keep my emotions in check,” he said. “I couldn’t worry about the pressure. I had to make sure I made those free throws to pull out the ‘W’.”

The win voided a potentially embarrassing loss. Senior Owen White scored 11 points in the first five minutes and helped Carson build a 19-8 lead. Pugh grabbed a rebound and hit a stickback from inside the lane to make it 26-10 and Cole Perry’s bucket gave the Cougars a 28-13 edge after one quarter. But the guests used a 12-0 run in the third period and a 10-0 spurt in the fourth to catch up and inch ahead.

“We had to fight for it, man,” Perry said afterward. “We started out so hot, shooting the ball so well. Once those shots quit falling, our defense suffered and they did a great job making a run on us. Just glad we came out on top.”

NOTES: Hickory Ridge has moved to the 4A ranks and has no returning starters from last year’s 20-9 team. Kevon Meertins led the Bulls with 16 points. … White finished with 16 points for Carson, the last two on a jump shot that provided an eight-point lead early in the fourth quarter. Prugh also had 16. … The Cougars are idle until they host Concord next Tuesday.

HICKORY RIDGE (66) — Meertins 16, Bell 14, Bagnasco 11, Hien 10, Minlend 6, Thomas 6, Hayles 2, Marsh 1.

CARSON (73) — Hairston 21, Prugh 16, White 16, Perry 12, Williams 8, Sifford, Hales, Dunn.

Hickory Ridge    13   17   19   17 — 66

Carson                 28   14   13   18 — 73

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