Salem’s boys hit Carroll County with a haymaker over the first six minutes in Friday’s River Ridge District contest in Hillsville. The game ended with haymakers of a different kind as police had to break up a brief fight between the two teams before the Spartans held on for an 82-73 victory.
Salem (8-6, 4-4 River Ridge) knocked down 7 of its first 10 shots of the game and took advantage of five early Carroll County (13-4, 6-2 River Ridge) turnovers to blow open a 23-4 lead just six minutes into the game. The Cavaliers clawed back to within nine points on a couple of different occasions and trailed 72-62 with about four minutes left when the game took a turn for the worse.
Carroll County’s Winston Giles took off after a loose ball and got tangled up with Salem’s Austin Coulling when Coulling appeared to tackle Giles to the ground. Giles retaliated in front of the Salem bench, leading to a pile of bodies pushing and shoving each other, and Carroll’s Gunnar Beamer reportedly taking a punch to the head/throat area. Hillsville Police Officer Wesley Yonce and Carroll County Resource Officers Kevin Kemp and Mike Combs all had to get involved to restore order.
Salem’s NaQuan Poindexter was ejected for a flagrant foul, although he didn’t play in the game, and teammate Troy Mann was whistled for a technical, his fifth foul of the game. Carroll County’s Blake Dalton and Cody Keith were also hit with technical fouls.
With emotions running sky-high, the Cavaliers nearly pulled off the comeback with Giles knocking down two free throws after the melee. He hit one of two free throws 11 seconds later, with Carroll grabbing the offensive rebound on the second free throw. Connor Lundy followed with a 3-pointer to trim Salem’s lead to 72-68.
Coulling would respond with a 3-pointer and an old-fashioned three-point play, however, to push Salem’s lead back to 78-70 as the Spartans held on for the win. Carroll County head coach Brad Hawks said Monday the school was meeting with the region’s head of officials to view film of the incident captured on a school security camera.
“I am more proud of our guys for losing with class than being classless. I’m proud of our bench guys for not leaving the bench. I don’t think the referees handled that right, but they are referees and they make mistakes,” Hawks said. “I don’t understand how a kid slams a kid down and scores at least seven points in the fourth quarter. We had two technicals and for some reason they got one technical and a flagrant foul. They called a flagrant on number 20, but it was number 14 (Coulling). Look at how many he scored in the fourth quarter. I don’t understand that.”
Hawks said he also had Beamer in a bear hug trying to hold him back from the skirmish when Beamer was punched in the face by Salem’s Mann.
“He threw a punch and hit him in the face,” Hawks said. “I had Gunnar in the bear hug so I had a pretty good look at it.”
Earlier in the game, Salem’s Alex Light was hit with a technical after he and Keith grabbed a rebound at the same time and Light tossed Keith to the ground.
As for the actual game, Salem drilled 10 3-pointers and shot a sizzling 53 percent (27-of-51) from the field compared to 36.3 percent (20-of-55) for Carroll. The Cavs jumped out to a quick 4-3 lead before the Spartans blew the game open with a 20-0 run. Salem center Alex Light scored six points inside while Devonte Joyce hit two 3-pointers over that span. A driving basket by Blake Dalton finally ended a scoring drought of 4:45 for Carroll.
“The first quarter really hurt us. They shot lights out,” Hawks said. “They were the better team tonight. We didn’t match their physicality early.”
During the decisive run, Salem continually beat Carroll’s press. The Cavs also committed four turnovers in the dry spell.
“When you don’t press hard, when you walk out on the floor and are afraid of contact, that is what happens. People will pick it apart,” Hawks said. “And it was uncharacteristically bad things tonight, missed layups, missed free throws - that was the difference in the game.”
Salem head coach Kevin Garst said his players were blown away by the atmosphere of Carroll County last year in a 66-48 Cavaliers’ win for the Region IV title. This time, he said the Spartans were ready.
“We definitely came ready to play and focused. I’m proud of them for fighting through some adversity there late,” Garst said. “I think last year when we came down here our guys were blown away by the atmosphere. Looking back it was a lot of fun playing in that environment, so I think they kind of knew what they were getting into in terms of the environment, the speed of the game, the physicalness of the game, things like that.”
Mann led Salem with 26 points, while Coulling tossed in 19 and Light scored 14. Beamer and Keith each scored 17 to pace the Cavaliers. Dalton finished with 15 points and Lundy scored 14 for Carroll.
Salem 26..20..14..22 - 82
Carroll 9..24..14..26 - 73
Salem – Joyce 3 0-0 8, Mann 8 7-8 26, Coulling 6 3-3 19, Parker 1 2-4 4, Pratt 3 4-4 12, Light 6 2-5 14. 3-pointers – Coulling 4, Mann 3, Joyce 2, Pratt 1.
Carroll County – Shinault 0 1-2 1, Beamer 4 8-9 17, Lundy 3 5-8 14, Keith 6 5-6 17, Giles 1 7-9 9, Dalton 5 3-3 15. 3-pointers – Lundy 3, Dalton 2, Beamer 1.
Allen Worrell can be reached by calling (276) 728-7311 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN