CARTHAGE As the buzzer sounded, Jeff Ventiquattro threw his fist in the air, turned to his bench and the crowd and screamed, We win.
That monkey that had been on his back and the back of every player on the Carthage boys basketball team for the last month finally jumped off on Saturday at Carthage High School.
Peyton McLaurin went 8-for-8 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter, and the Comets used a balanced attack from its starting five to hand South Jefferson its first loss of the year, 66-60, in a crossover game between the Frontier Leagues elite.
It was a gut-check win, said Ventiquattro, whose team has won nine straight games. South Jeff always plays tough, hard-nosed basketball. We needed that, to get pushed around a little bit. I wanted to see how the kids responded and they responded very well.
Carthage went 20-for-34 from the floor, 8-for-13 from beyond the 3-point arc, and 18-for-22 at the free throw line to improve to 11-1 overall and 7-1 in league play.
Its only loss came at the hands of the Spartans on Dec. 6.
Wed do anything to win this game, Carthage junior Walter Jeter said.
Ben Martin, the Comets only senior, scored a team-best 15 points. Jeter and Andrew Smith added 14 apiece, McLaurin finished with 12 and Keyan Pinnock provided nine.
Martins 15 points were a season high. He scored just three points in the first meeting.
Hes my only senior and he led us (today), Ventiquattro said.
McLaurin, the Comets leading scorer at more than 17 points per game, was held scoreless until midway through the third quarter and had just two points entering the fourth.
But the 6-foot-3 sophomore point guard sank every one of his free-throw attempts in the final quarter to seal the game.
Down the stretch, hes such a good free-throw shooter that we want the ball in his hands no matter what kind of game hes having prior to that, Ventiquattro said. He realizes that his supporting cast is really, really good.
Tom Bassett scored a game-high 25 points and Jacob Worden added 19, on 9-for-12 shooting, for South Jefferson (11-1, 10-1). The senior duo combined for all but two of South Jeffersons points in the first half.
Carthage came out strong, jumping out to an early lead and holding the Spartans off the rest of the way. It ended the first quarter up by six, and the score was even through the final three quarters.
Once you have the momentum in the game, you just have to keep it, Martin said.
I really thought in the first half we executed real well, and we came up empty, South Jefferson coach Fred Piche said. We built ourselves a hole, and in the second half they shot well, everybody stepped out and hit a three.
The Spartans were in an unfamiliar position, playing from behind the entire game. All but two of their wins this season were decided by double digits.
Adversity is always good if you turn it into a positive thing, and we will, Piche said. The guys were very positive in the locker room, they realized they ran into a team that was hot. Theyre a good a group of kids. Theyll come back and work hard on Monday.