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Dale’s/Sam Moir Christmas Classic: Carson boys bounce back with win

By Marny Hendrick

sports@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY —What a difference a day made for the Carson boys Friday morning in the consolation round of the Dale’s/Sam Moir Christmas Classic at Catawba College’s Goodman Gym.

Carson trailed neighborhood rival South Rowan for most of the game but made the clutch baskets in the final five minutes to capture a 65-58 victory. Just 24 hours earlier in its tourney opener, the Cougars let the game get away from them down the stretch in a close loss to A.L. Brown.

Lesson learned.

“We just had to gut it out and finish it,” said Carson head coach Brian Perry. “We have had some real dog fights with South in recent years and this was no different. We made a couple of plays and got some stops to pull it out but it wasn’t pretty.”

The Raiders (1-9) have struggled to find a way to win all season but seemed to be in position to turn the tide behind the one-two punch of sharpshooters Braden Graham and Brenden Finger. They led by four at the half and 48-46, heading to the fourth period. The South lead was 50-48 with just over five minutes left, when Carson (6-6) flipped the script.

Junior guard AJ Mauldin shook off the effects of a badly sprained ankle to drain a couple of long threes, wrapped around a three-point play by senior EJ Clark. In less than a minute, the two-point deficit turned into a 57-53 lead. The margin expanded to six, 62-26, on a Clark 3-pointer with 1:17 left, as Carson completed the comeback.

“I feel like I was spotting up and my teammates unselfishly found me,” said Mauldin, who finished with a team-high 20 on the strength of six 3-pointers. He went down in pain late in the first half with a badly twisted ankle and took most of the third period to get back the groove. “When I came back in, it had not stretched out enough,” he said. “So I ran on the side to get loose and knew I was ready to go.”

Mauldin, who averages just over 16 per game, mostly on threes, said he was heading home to ice the ankle and elevate it. He plans to be back this afternoon at 1:30 when the Cougars take on North Rowan for fifth place.

The valiant effort by the Raiders was led by junior guard Graham, who scored 23 points, including four 3-pointers, in spite of some intense face guarding by Carson’s defensive wizard Denis Zuniga.

“He is such a great player, who can shoot the rock,” Zuniga said, afterwards. “I just tried to do my best to guard him closely and make him work.”

When Graham was occupied by Zuniga, Finger, a 6-3 guard, filled the gap by draining four 3-pointers of his own from the top of the key, scoring 18. It still was not quite good enough.

“I told our guys that if we can play with that kind of energy, we can be in most games, with a chance to win,” said Raiders’ coach Andre McCain. “We had an opportunity there, but little mistakes here and there at the end hurt us. I commend their effort and I love these types of close games. We still have work to do.”

Following Mauldin in scoring for Carson were Clark with 18 points and junior guard Javon Smith with 16. No other Cougars scored more than 4.

South will play in the 7th-place boys game Saturday morning against West Rowan (4-4) at 10:30.

SOUTH ROWAN (58) — Graham 23, Finger 18, Holloman 4, Dextraze 4, Thompson 3, Stanley 3, Ritchie 1, Woodman. Peacock.

CARSON (65) — Mauldin 20, Clark 18, Smith 16, Allen 4, Neeley 4, Harris 3, Zuniga, Taylor

South Rowan    22   14   12    10 — 58

Carson                22   10   14    19 — 65

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