It didn’t take too long on Friday night for Carroll to demonstrate exactly what sets them apart from Concordia Lutheran and most of the Summit Athletic Conference. The Chargers used an 8-0 run to close out the first quarter and they would never trail again in a 66-45 win inside Concordia’s cage.
The Cadets used some savvy shooting to get up 8-7, but the way that Carroll moved the ball around and had energy in every aspect of the game was astounding.
Carroll’s pace was set pretty immediately, making it clear that it was a night that the Cadets were going to have to chase Carroll around the gym. For a team that was really thriving in transition and making things happen quickly, Carroll’s half court game was equally dynamic, especially early, on Friday night. They spread the ball out well and made extra passes, rarely relying on pure transition even though they had the pace to do so.
Whether it was Jalen Jackson, Ryan Preston or Cam Hedgecock leading the charge, Carroll’s ball rotation was clearly above par. They snapped passes with vigor until they found the open shot, ending usually in a corner where one of their quality three point shooters could take care of business and extend their lead. There was not a sign of selfishness in the place as Carroll’s entire initial rotation of seven got their chance to shine in the first half.
We talk all of the time about the best teams in the area being the ones who can do some fundamental pick apart work and the Chargers were at their best doing that.
“I think when we move the ball, we have a number of guys who can score and shoot it,” Carroll coach Marty Beasley said. “So if we stay unselfish and move the ball and take what they give us, it’s good. And you have have to defend and I thought our defense was pretty decent early on.”
The second quarter evolved into more of a defensive stop and transition bucket situation. A Cody Burkey and-one layup and a Sam Strycker two hand slam, both coming off defensive stops at the rim, extended Carroll’s lead. On the other end, the Cadets shooting ran dry with only Luke Speckhard gaining much traction in the second frame. With the aggression Strycker displayed at the rim and his high level rebounding, the Cadets couldn’t afford many mistakes without Carroll taking advantage.
A Brandon Davis three inside three minutes in the first half helped Concordia out of a slump, but Jackson fought back on the other end. Off a Charlie Rudolph missed three, Jackson snagged the rebound, had his initial shot blocked only for him to grab it back and score with a layup. It is that kind of grind it out work that breaks a team’s spirit. Jackson broke Concordia’s spirit consistently on Friday night.
Carroll led 36-21 at halftime with Jackson’s 15 points leading the way.
The second half was almost purely mathematical as Carroll chipped away in transition while their jump shooting and rebounding struggled much more than it did in the first half. It turned the Chargers into working in the half court almost exclusively at times. With 3:30 left in the third, Carroll ended a little lull when Jackson spotted up in the short corner and contorted around collapsing defenders to score with what looked liked relative ease. In this one, as he has done all through this early season, Jackson has made it clear that his summer development wasn’t just a summer thing; he is legit a high end scorer who can do so with as much variety as anyone else in the conference.
A Jackson and-one with 41.6 seconds left in the third extended Carroll’s lead to 20 for the first time at 52-32.
Beasley was visually not happy with some of the Chargers’ unforced miscues late in the game, and it makes sense. With a target in the SAC firmly planted on Carroll, any negative tendency is something that just doesn’t belong. But behind Beasley’s lead, the Chargers were able to just slow things down and take more time. That led to a Preston triple with 1:25 left the put Carroll up 64-41 and the reserves being sent into the game.
“I thought Concordia did a really, really good job of spreading us out a little bit, hitting a lot of shots and I thought they were the aggressor in the second half, especially on the boards,” Beasley said.
Because of Jackson’s spirit, the on court coaching of Strycker and just the general demeanor that Carroll played with far more often than not, the casual observer would have no reason to be alarmed but the miscues they made along the way. They merely looked like little bumps for a team that was pretty flawless when clicking at a top level. They clicked at the top level when they were able to control the game energetically.
When we talk about respect to teams right now, there are few things as exciting to watch than teams who can get up for games in an empty gym. With the SAC’s current lack of spectators outside of staff, it doesn’t exactly make for a Friday night feel. But Carroll played like they had their wild student section in their ear. Tempo is easy to set, energy is not something that is so easy to replicate.
But Carroll did just that, as if the gym was packed to capacity and shaking as Concordia’s cage has a tendency to do.
“You’ve got five seniors on your team that can hopefully supply [energy] and lead us,” Beasley said. “That is the goal is to have guys that have been there, done that who can lead us through it. Energy is a huge thing. Confidence is a huge thing. So if you can play with energy and confidence, get an early lead on people and there is no crowd bringing them back in. So that is kind of a good thing.”
Jackson finished the game with 26 points on 11 of 14 shooting from the field and with nine rebounds. Strycker finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds while Hedgecock supplied four rebounds, four assists and six steals. Concordia was led by 12 points from Speckhard, who hit three of the Cadets’ nine triples.
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