Several Carvers Bay upperclassmen know what it’s like to go deep into the Class A playoffs.
The Bears were a game away from a state championship game berth in 2010 and reached the third round in 2011.
But even more players on the roster know what it’s like to go out in the first round, as the Bears did last season as a No. 3 seed out of their region following a late-season swoon.
So despite being the Region VII-A champion and a No. 1 seed, Carvers Bay entered Tuesday night’s first-round game against Latta with some trepidation.
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“I feel a couple of us were kind of nervous from being at home, and if we lose they’re digging in the ‘What if’ barrel,” said senior guard Da’Shaun Aiken, who scored a team-high 18 points.
Carvers Bay opened up a big first-quarter lead and managed to get past the Vikings 65-57 to arouse aspirations of another playoff run. “I feel kind of relieved and now we just go practice harder and get ready for the next one,” Aiken said.
The Bears (18-7) will face Military Magnet – a winner over Estill on Tuesday – at home in the second round Friday having won 11 of their last 13 games.
“This team is wonderfully athletic,” Bears coach Jeff Mezzatesta said. “When they play and play together, they’re very good. Trying to keep it consistent is what kills us. They’ll execute in spurts.”
That was on display Tuesday night against the Vikings (7-12), the fourth-place team out of Region VIII-A.
Carvers Bay used its athleticism and quickness to force turnovers on five of Latta’s first six possessions, and started the game by hitting five of its first six shots to take a 12-1 lead just three minutes into the contest.
The early run was capped by an alley-oop dunk by Shayton Durrand off an underhanded lob by Walter Linnen following a Linnen steal and push up the court.
Carvers Bay ’s patented frenetic pace and pressure rattled Latta early as the Vikings committed 13 turnovers in the opening quarter, after which it trailed 22-10.
“I knew they were going to pressure,” Latta coach Tony Whittington said. “We worked on it the whole time [in preparation]. Sometimes you just can’t work on the speed. We knew what was coming. We just made too many mistakes.”
Carvers Bay continued to force turnovers early in the second quarter, but a couple missed layups on fast breaks aided a comeback attempt by Latta, and the Vikings settled down later in the quarter.
An 8-0 run inside the final two minutes of the second quarter pulled the Vikings within two points at 30-28. An Aiken free throw and steal and dunk put the Bears back up by five at halftime.
The Bears pushed the advantage to 10 points by scoring the first five points of the third quarter.
Latta cut the deficit to six, but an 11-2 run gave the Bears a 15-point lead with one minute remaining in the third quarter. The run featured five points from Aiken including a 3-pointer, a Shayton Durand layin on a give-and-go with twin brother Shaquan Durand, and a pair of put-back buckets by Stephon Hannah.
The Vikings chipped away at the lead and pulled within five points on a Tyrell Sabb 3-pointer with 2:50 to play, but Linnen and Aiken combined for nine points down the stretch to hold them off.
“Every time we’d find success we’d go away from it,” Mezzatesta said. “And I think they wanted to do so good so bad, they made mental mistakes and we have to get better. … I feel there’s a lot of pressure on the kids because they demand so much out of themselves.”
All five Bears starters scored at least seven points. Aiken added nine rebounds and three steals to his 18 points, Shayton Durand had 16 points and three steals, Linnen had seven points and five steals, and Darius Williams had eight points and five rebounds.
Sabb matched his team-leading scoring average for Latta with 15 points, and the Vikings got 23 points from Kenche Page. “We settled down and I think we played hard, we just made too many mistakes and didn’t make the shots,” Whittington said. “We had our chances.”