Despite sweeping through the Southwest District last season and returning all but two players, Carroll County’s boys were picked second behind Abingdon this year by preseason pundits from The Roanoke Times and Bristol Herald-Courier. Obviously that didn’t sit well with the Cavaliers, who hammered the Falcons 67-35 in Hillsville on Wednesday night in a statement game to open the SWD schedule.
“I think the kids used that as a little tool to get keyed up for the game. They are still trying to earn that respect,” Carroll County head coach Brad Hawks said of his fourth-ranked team in the Timesland. “Today was the first time we’ve been ranked in the Timesland since the season started and I think the kids took that and used that to their advantage.”
After getting off to a slow start and falling behind 7-0, Carroll County (10-0, 1-0 SWD) answered with a 17-0 run that stretched into the second quarter. In fact, the Cavaliers held Abingdon (9-3, 0-1 SWD) scoreless for a span of six minutes and 30 seconds until Ashton Bassham’s inside basket ended the drought more than a minute into the second period.
“We came out a little flat, but I thought we executed real well. We had shots our first three or four possessions, we just weren’t making them,” Hawks said. “When we run our stuff we are going to get open looks.”
That certainly happened as Austin Horton scored off an assist from Gunnar Beamer, and Beamer and Ryan Gravley hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give Carroll an 8-7 lead it would not relinquish. Duncan Reece followed with a basket before Gravley sent the wild and rocking Cavalier student section into a frenzy with a killer crossover move and jumper for a 12-7 edge. Taylor Case then added a driving shot as time expired on the first quarter to make it 14-7.
“I think we are playing better as each game goes on. We had a big win over Radford on Saturday night and coming into Abingdon we knew they were good and what they do,” Hawks said. “The Roanoke Times and Bristol picked them and it gave us a little extra motivation.”
Connor Lundy’s 3-pointer early in the second half completed the 17-0 run before Abingdon responded with a 10-2 run of its own to claw back to within 19-17. Contesting every shot Abingdon’s talented post players could offer up, Carroll finished the half on a 10-3 run before blowing the Falcons out of the gym in the second half.
Although Josh Hess recorded his 1,000th point in the loss, the Cavs held him in check to 10 points. Talented Falcons’ big man Mack Owens was also limited to 11 points.
“We really held our ground defensively and stood toe-to-toe with them. We wanted to get as many bodies on those two guys as we could,” Hawks said. “We know how dangerous they are and how dangerous they are capable of being. Those guys are capable of putting up 30, bam, bam, bam. We wanted to run as many bodies as we could in and out at those guys and wear them down a little bit.”
Carroll outscored the Falcons 21-8 in the third quarter, abusing Abingon’s man-to-man defense to increase the lead to 50-28.
Gravley, who finished with a game-high 21 points, followed up a baseline drive with a 3-pointer to make it 39-24. Cody Keith added a couple of baskets inside and Lundy scored off an assist from Gravley to close out the huge third quarter.
“Gravley just does what he does. He makes free throws, handles the ball well and is a very solid kid and player,” Hawks said. “I thought Lundy came in and did a great job, especially in the second half, because we weren’t sure how much he would play with his ankle injury. Chris Smoot played great and Gunnar Beamer played great on the Hess kid. All our big guys, I think that was the difference. We limited them to one and done most of the time and contested every shot. I was very, very pleased.”
Lundy opened the final period with a 3-pointer and Gravley knocked down two free throws to stretch the lead to 55-30. Nathan Snow’s putback in the final moments gave Carroll its biggest lead of 32 points.
Aside from Gravley’s 21-point night, five other Cavaliers scored at least five points, with Lundy tossing in eight, Reece scoring seven and Keith and Horton each contributing six points.
For the game, Carroll turned the ball over just six times and outshot Abingdon 54.3 percent (25-of-46) to 34.1 percent (15-of-44) from the field.
Abingdon 7 1387 - 35
Carroll Co. 14 15 21 17 - 67
Abingdon – Francisco 0 1-2 1, Hess 4 1-1 10, Sigmon 3 0-0 7, Blankenship 1 0-0 2, Johnson 1 0-0 2, Bassham 1 0-0 2, M. Owens 5 0-0 11. 3-pointers – Hess 1, Sigmon 1, M. Owens 1.
Carroll County – Gravley 7 6-8 21, Smoot 1 0-0 2, Beamer 2 0-0 5, Case 1 0-0 2, Lundy 3 0-0 8, Keith 3 0-0 6, Lineberry 0 1-2 1, B. Dalton 0 2-2 2, Reece 3 1-4 7, Horton 3 0-2 6, Snow 2 0-0 4, Holder 0 3-4 3. 3-pointers – Lundy 2, Gravley 2, Beamer 1.