Moir Christmas Classic: Carson girls win championship again

Published 12:08 am Sunday, December 30, 2018

By Mike London
mike.london@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — As the final seconds ticked off the scoreboard at Catawba College’s Goodman Gym on Saturday night, the basketball, appropriately enough, was in the hands of Carson senior McKenzie Gadson.

Gadson appears to be as mild-mannered as Clark Kent, as sweet as a puppy dog, but there’s some steel and vinegar in her as well. She pounded the ball to the hardwood three times before hurling her fist in the air and celebrating a 52-38 championship game victory over Salisbury with her teammates.

Thirty seconds earlier, an airborne Gadson had smashed a Salisbury 3-point attempt toward the lobby. She obviously enjoyed the second of Carson’s back-to-back Moir triumphs even more than last year’s.

“To go back-to-back is special, but winning as a senior feels especially good,” Gadson said. “I’ll always be able to look back on this night.”

The Anderson University signee always will have the tournament MVP award to look back on. She was joined on the all-tournament team by junior guard Taylor Conrad and sophomore guard Ellie Wilhelm, two of Carson’s committee of shooters.

It also was a fine night for Carson coach Brooke Stouder. She’d lost in three previous finals to Salisbury, including the 2016 tournament.

When Carson finally won its first championship of the Dale’s Sporting Goods Sam Moir Christmas Classic in 2017, it came after South Rowan had upset Salisbury in a semifinal. There were still doubters.

But this time, it was Carson and Salisbury, both undefeated and going head-to-head. And on Saturday, Carson was definitely the better team.

“Our defense was the key to this championship,” Stouder said. “In the first half, we missed so many layups, rushed so many open shots. In the second quarter, we made only one field goal, but we still had the lead at halftime because we were holding Salisbury down. We kept executing on defense.”

Salisbury hadn’t scored fewer than 52 points in a game this season and had scored as many as 71, so 38 stung a lot. For a really good team, third-seeded Salisbury (9-1) had an awful night. Only three Hornets scored in the second half.

“Give Carson credit for playing well, but we didn’t,” Salisbury coach Lakai Brice said. “Great atmosphere, a chance to play in front of a lot of people, but we just didn’t have a good night. We couldn’t make anything. We couldn’t have thrown it in the ocean.”

Salisbury had played powerfully a day earlier in wiping out second-seeded West Rowan, but there were few easy hoops against Carson. Carson was able to handle Salisbury’s quickness better than West did because of point guard Lani Isley. Once Carson got the ball in Isley’s hands, pressure wasn’t a factor.

“Isley rarely has big stats, but she’s such a huge part of our team and does a lot of the dirty work,” Stouder said.

Carson (14-0) has a fun team to watch, with five people constantly moving on offense and very few bad shots being hoisted. The Cougars make free throws and don’t turn it over a lot.

It was Conrad, who got the Cougars started, She buried three soft, high-arcing shots to give the Cougars an early 9-3 lead.

“I wasn’t that nervous,” Conrad said. “I used the adrenaline that I had from having a good game in the semifinals. And I think it helped us a lot that our coaches told us we weren’t going to change anything that we did just because Salisbury was so athletic. We were going to keep running the floor and playing fast like we always do. We were still going to try to trigger our offense with our defense.”

When Gadson set up Wilhelm for a 3-pointer from the top of the wheel, it was 14-6 after a quarter.

The only bucket Carson got in a frigid second quarter came on an acrobatic Gadson drive, but the Cougars maintained control and led 20-12 at the break.

“Our defense was active,” Gadson said. “Even when the shots didn’t fall for us, we were still very focused on the defensive end. We were talking, communicating. We knew we had to stay in front of Bryanna (Troutman) and we knew what we wanted to do against their shooters.”

Troutman, Salisbury’s star had only three points at halftime and Cougars had drawn a couple of charges on her spin moves. Salisbury’s No. 2 scorer, Anayia Fulson, was scoreless at the break. Salisbury’s other 3-point shooter, freshman Rachel McCullough, had made only one triple.

Troutman, who made the all-tourney team, tried to lead a Salisbury comeback in the third quarter. She scored the Hornets’ first eight points of the period. But Carson answered with points from five different players. Conrad made her second 3-pointer. So did Wilhelm. Carleigh Perry, the Cougars’ inside banger, fought for two hoops. Colbie Perry and Isley scored on drives.

When Colbie Perry hit a couple of 3-pointers with the clock ticking toward the 5-minute mark, Carson led by 16, and it was all over.

Fulson got scorching hot at the end, scoring 13 of her 15 points in the last five minutes, but it wasn’t close to enough.

“It was a bad game for us,  too many turnovers, too many 3-point attempts and terrible free-throw shooting, but we can  learn from it,” Brice said. “We’re still having a great season. We’re off to a great start in our conference, and we can’t let this one game define who we are.”

Carson also has plans for a banner season. The 14-0 start is unprecedented in program history.

“I’m very proud of this group,” Stouder said. “It’s a fun team to coach. Great chemistry and girls who are always looking for each other, always trying to share the ball.”

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NOTES: Joining Gadson, Conrad, Wilhelm and Troutman on the all-tournament team were Abigail Wilson and Janiya Downs. Wilson scored 20-plus points in all three games for third-place West Rowan. Downs had an epic tournament for fifth-place South Rowan, scoring 92 points and breaking her school’s career scoring record. … Fulson received the Ronz Award that is given in honor of the late Ronnie Gallagher, long-time sports editor of the Post. The Ronz Award celebrates spirit, hustle and sportsmanship. Mackie Gallagher, Ronnie’s younger son, was on hand for the presentation.

SALISBURY (38) — Fulson 15, Troutman 11, McCullough 6, C. Robinson 4, Gibson 2, Brown, T. Robinson, Mashore, Glenn.

CARSON (52) — Gadson 14, Conrad 11, Wilhelm 8, Co. Perry 8, Ca. Perry 6, L. Isley 5, Cooper, Hales, Gamewell, Post.

Salisbury    6    6    10    16   — 38

Carson       14    6    15    17    — 52

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