Carroll boys use defense, free throws, togetherness to claim SAC basketball title

Carroll's Preston Shearer, left and Dan McKeeman play tight defense as Homestead's Onye Ezeakudo drives to the basket Friday at Homestead. (Photo by Reggie Hayes of news-sentinel.com)
Carroll guard Reece Swoverland, right, looks to pass to teammate Riley Perlich against the defense of Homestead's Onye Ezeakudo on Friday at Homestead. (Photo by Reggie Hayes of news-sentinel.com)
Carroll's David Ejah, right, looks to score against Homestead's Trevin Taylor on Friday at Homestead. (Photo by Reggie Hayes of news-sentinel.com)
Homestead High School boys basketball coach Chris Johnson reacts to a call during his team's game against Carroll on Friday at Homestead. (Photo by Reggie Hayes of news-sentinel.com)
Carroll's Riley Perlich, left, faces up in the triple-threat position against Homestead's Sam Buck on Friday at Homestead. (Photo by Reggie Hayes of news-sentinel.com)
Carroll's Dan McKeeman, left, drives against the defense of Homestead's Luke Goode on Friday at Homestead. (Photo by Reggie Hayes of news-sentinel.com)

Carroll High School senior Riley Perlich started shooting free throws at an early age. How early? He uses the word “toddler” when talking about the right time to start working on them.

“We’ve always learned through this program, two things that win games are free throws and layups,” Perlich said. “We shoot free throws a lot in practice. It pays off in games like this.”

The Chargers delivered with all of the tried-and-true fundamentals in their 55-45 win over Homestead on Friday. The win gave Carroll (16-3) its first boys Summit Athletic Conference title. Carroll finished the SAC with an 8-1 record, as did Homestead (12-7 overall). The head-to-head result broke the tie.

The Chargers won with defense, forcing Homestead into 14-of-48 (29 percent) shooting from the field. More than half of those Homestead attempts came from beyond the three-point line, where the Spartans made only 7 of 30 (23 percent). The Chargers won with aggression, jumping to a 10-0 lead to start the game and answering every time Homestead drew to a tie. And they won with free throws, hitting 13 of 16 (10 of 11 in the fourth quarter).

Perlich and David Ejah scored 13 points apiece to lead Carroll. Ejah added 11 rebounds for a double-double and Perlich was in the middle of several key moments, including a move in the lane to stretch the lead to seven points with just over two minutes left.

Carroll kept Homestead’s dynamic guard Onye Ezeakudo scoreless in the first half, and he finished with six points on 2-of-9 shooting with five turnovers. Guards Dan McKeeman and Arius Jones were big factors in keying the defense.

“(Carroll’s players) grew up and realized they needed one another,” Carroll coach Marty Beasley said. “They realized they had to play tougher mentally and tougher physically. They have a lot of gifts and talents, but you can’t just come out and play basketball. You have to play with a purpose and they’ve really done that, and bought into that, since the Homestead loss.”

Carroll lost to Homestead by two points in the SAC holiday tournament on Dec. 27, and they had lost an SAC title game to Homestead on a last-second shot two years ago.

The Chargers were intent on setting the tone with their defense to open the game Friday.

A 10-0 lead early turned into a 21-10 lead late in the second quarter before Homestead made a push behind with threes from Sam Buck, Luke Goode and Jake Archbold before the half to close the deficit to 23-21.

“Their defense was strong, their defense was tough,” Homestead coach Chris Johnson said. “We weren’t able to get in the lane and, when your threes aren’t falling, it’s going to be a long night.”

Buck scored 20 points, in addition to nine rebounds, and was the only Homestead player to score in double figures. Complementing Perlich and Ejah for Carroll was McKeeman with nine points and Jones with eight points.

After Homestead trimmed a 41-31 Carroll lead to 41-38, Carroll answered with an inside “and-1” from Perlich to make it 44-38 with 3:47 left. Perlich scored nine of his 13 points in the those last four minutes.

“We’re the first team from Carroll to do it,” Perlich said. “This is something we can look back on 20 years from now and remember we were the first Carroll team to win the conference title in the SAC.”

Beasley was a little choked up talking about his team afterward, especially seniors Perlich, Jones, Reece Swoverland and Nathan Fish.

“I’ve been doing this 25 years and there might be another team that comes along and will be successful again,” he said. “But those guys in that locker room, those four seniors especially, mean a lot to our program. Good for them.”

Many thought North Side, which reached the Class 4A state championship game last season, would take the SAC title this season. Some thought Wayne would challenge. Expecting the conference title to be a winner-take-all battle between Carroll and Homestead would have been quite an alternative opinion.

“Homestead and Carroll, we’re a lot alike,” Beasley said. “We want programs. We want to develop from younger kids who want to play for Carroll and want to play for Homestead. We take a little bit of pride in doing that. We make sure our kids play together. We don’t care who’s the star or who’s going to score the points.”

Ejah said Carroll felt a sense of payback for the SAC title game two years ago when Homestead’s Tahj Curry hit a last-second game-winning shot.

“And it feels great because of the hard work we put in this season,” Ejah said.

That hard work involved defense, working on playing cohesively as a unit and making free throws. Carroll led the state in free throw shooting percentage in 2016 and 2017. The Chargers are down slightly from 80 percent to 76 percent this season, but they hit them Friday when it counted most.

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