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Prep Basketball: Carlisle opens season with dominating win
Carlisle’s Thon Maker (middle) goes up for a basket in the second half Friday during the Chiefs’ 72-45 season-opening win over Mt. Zion Christian Academy at Laurel Park Middle School in Henry County. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)
The Carlisle Chiefs began their new “national schedule” with a visit from Mt. Zion Christian Academy (N.C.) on Friday.
The end result was a decisive win.
Sophomore sensation Thon Maker scored 30 points and grabbed 17 rebounds as his double-double effort led the Chiefs to a 72-45 win over Mt. Zion at Laurel Park Middle School.
Even though the Chiefs won by 27 points, Carlisle head coach Jason Niblett felt like there was more improvement to be made.
“We left a lot of plays out on the table tonight.” Niblett said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do, but we are going to get better.”
Although Maker finished with 30 points, he was held in check early in the game. He did, however, affect the game in other ways with his shot blocking and physical presence in the middle. It helped stymie the Warriors’ offense all game.
Maker blocked seven Mt. Zion field goal attempts in the first half and finished with nine in the game. The Chiefs (1-0) defense held the Warriors (0-1) to just eight points in the first quarter to take a 14-point lead after eight minutes.
Point guard Eric Johnson began the game with back-to-back three pointers as Carlisle got out to a 16-4 lead. The Chiefs led at halftime by 15, but the flow of the game was lethargic and neither team got into much of a groove.
Carlisle was met by full-court pressure from the Warriors on the first possession of the ballgame. The style of pressure and physical play continued for both halves.
The Chiefs were rattled by it in the early stages, turning the ball over 12 times in the first half — 19 for the game. Niblett said some of the turnover issues were due to his team’s first live game action and not being as prepared because of not playing any scrimmages.
“Everyone was already loaded with the amount of games they could scrimmage and it is what it is,” Niblett said. “...We were not ready because we haven’t been put in this position this season. With no scrimmages we didn’t know what to expect, so we just came out and tried to make plays ourselves, and give Mt. Zion credit, they made us turn the ball over.”
Luckily for Carlisle, Mt. Zion was just as careless with the ball as it was forced into 17 turnovers.
The Warriors turned the Chiefs’ turnovers into points at the end of the first half to close on a 9-3 run, where four different Warriors scored baskets. The run slowly brought them back to life until a Maker alley-oop dunk — one of many — and blocked shot ended the half.
Kaleb Johnson, making his Chiefs debut, started the second half with a made jumper to extend the Chiefs lead. Johnson also contributed with a double-double of 15 points and 10 rebounds.
Johnson sat out the whole week prior to the game while nursing a knee injury. On Friday, there appeared to be no such concern for the team’s second leading scorer.
“I thought I played well, just a little out of shape,” Johnson said. “It was my first game and I was happy we got the win.”
Johnson was aggressive to the basket and scored the majority of his points driving through the paint. His eight points in the second half were second best for Carlisle, trailing only Maker.
Maker turned up his game in the second half and took over. He became much more active on the boards, and that allowed for many second chance opportunities.
Mt. Zion had two players — Brandon Cowart and Carlos Marla — who matched Maker in height, but neither possessed the skill set on offense or defense to counteract Maker’s abilities.
“Thon’s an excellent player,” Mt. Zion head coach Stephen Baines said. “He really changes the whole structure of the game as far as the things you have to do to get around him.”
Because of the Chiefs’ constant ability to get to the rim, the Warriors’ best bet was to foul and send Carlisle to the free-throw line. As a team, the Warriors committed 24 fouls — 12 in each half — compared to the Chiefs’ 11 fouls for the entire game.
Carlisle scored just 14 points at the charity stripe. However, with the Warriors’ lack of execution on offense, it didn’t seem to matter.
“First game jitters,” Baines said of his team’s offensive woes. “We haven’t really gotten the whole team chemistry down yet and we have a ways to go. It was a great experience to play the No. 25 team in the country to open the season.”
Mt. Zion’s only spark came from Derrick Armstrong’ team-high 17 points. Britton Reed was the only other Mt. Zion scorer in double figures, finishing with 15.