Carlisle sophomore center Thon Maker (14) shoots over Huntington Prep’s Jalen Lindsey (21) for two of his 12 first-half points Wednesday in the Chiefs’ 72-67 win over the Irish. Maker finished with 20 points in the game. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)
It’s Thanksgiving, and what are the Carlisle Chiefs thankful for? How about an upset win over the third-ranked team in the country?
Carlisle blew a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter Wednesday at Patrick Henry Community College, but was able to force No. 3 Huntington (W.Va.) Prep into three turnovers in the final 14.1 seconds to hold on for a hard-fought 72-67 victory over the Irish.
“Very proud of my team; they played extremely hard tonight,” Carlisle head coach Jason Niblett said. “I’m speechless right now.”
It was the Chiefs’ biggest win of the season, and arguably the biggest in the program’s history, as Huntington Prep came in with a 6-0 record and had been outscoring opponents this season by an average of 48 points and scoring an average of 107 per game.
The Irish fielded the nation’s No. 1 high school player last year in now-Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins, but it was the Chiefs’ No. 2-ranked player who took over that led Carlisle to the monumental win.
After a sluggish start, Thon Maker exploded with 12 points in the second quarter on the way to a 20-point, 10-rebound night. Maker was one of three Carlisle players to reach double figures, as Yesid Mosquera scored 13 points off the bench and point guard Eric Johnson added 17.
“It was a total team effort tonight; it just wasn’t one player,” Niblett said. “Everybody that stepped on that floor came ready to play.”
Eric Johnson stepped up in the second half after being held to three points in the first. The Chiefs and Irish were knotted at 30 at halftime, and Johnson started looking for his shot in the second half.
He knocked down two 3-pointers in the second half, including a buzzer-beater that lifted the crowd to its feet to end the third period.
Leading by four after three quarters, the Chiefs started to feed off of the crowd’s energy, as Kaleb Johnson hit Maker on a fast break for a thunderous dunk that put the Chiefs up by eight.
Carlisle extended the lead to 67-57 — the largest of the game for either team, but saw it evaporate as the Irish caught fire from behind the arc.
Huntington Prep went on a 10-0 run as both Montaque Gill Caesar and Josh Perkins hit 3-pointers to tie the game at 67.
However, Eric Johnson’s clutch free throws down the stretch that sealed the deal, as he put the game out of reach with two free throws to make it 72-67 Chiefs with 12.1 seconds left.
Eric Johnson, who was 8-of-12 from the free throw line for the game, said he knew the free throws were huge and was ready to step up and make them.
“If I make them, it was game,” he said. “This is what you live for, is situations like that to knock down two free throws to end the game against a good team like Huntington Prep.”
Carlisle, whose zone defense frustrated the Irish, forced Huntington Prep into three turnovers in the final seconds as the Irish couldn’t get off any shot attempts to extend the game.
“We have been working on defense for the last few days and we knew if we were going to have a chance to win we were going to have to play really sound defense,” Niblett said. “My hat off to our guys. They really worked hard and focused on what we needed to get done.”
For Eric Johnson and his teammates, this was the statement win the team needed to be recognized on a national level.
They had the chance earlier this year against No. 14 Oak Hill Academy and couldn’t get it done, but this time all of the pieces fell into place, he said.
“The coaches have preached to us all year, when we get on the big stage, we have to get these wins,” Eric Johnson said. “We have been working hard for it.”
Huntington Prep was led by JaQuan Lyle, who had 24 points, and Gill Caesar, who added 23. The Irish committed 19 turnovers in the game, seven of which came in the fourth quarter.
The Chiefs improved to 5-1 on the season, and will take on Covenant Academy at 6 p.m. Friday at Laurel Park Middle School.