Carson Walls said his goal as a sophomore on a senior-heavy Great Crossing High School boys’ basketball team has been to make it tough for GC coach Steve Page to take him out of the lineup.
By the early strains of a back-and-forth second period at home Tuesday night against Western Hills, the crafty guard had made it abundantly clear that his mission was accomplished, at least on this evening.
Walls rarely returned to the bench on his way to a varsity career-high 18 points — he entered the game with a grand total of 14 — in the Warhawks’ come-from-behind, 72-68 denial of the Wolverines.
“We just needed an energy spark,” Walls said “(Page) told us we needed to attack the gaps, so I started attacking and getting open looks, getting layups and easy points.
Great Crossing (8-8, 3-0) pulled away with 28 points in the fourth quarter to win a battle of the final two undefeated teams in the 41st District.
After a bucket that briefly gave GC the lead in the second quarter, Walls was granted the second-half start with his team in a 31-26 hole.
He scored five more points in the third period, spelling the difference as GC pulled even at 44, before serving up seven in the fateful fourth.
Walls shot 6-for-7 from inside the 3-point arc. He also dished out three assists on his way to Bluegrass Orthopaedics player of the game recognition on the Birds’ Nest Broadcasting Network.
“I’m just working hard in practice to get on the court, earn my playing time and show what I can do,” Walls said. “I just like to facilitate, pass the ball, and attack the rim when I need to. I can shoot it if I need to, but just a little bit of everything for my team.”
On the defensive end, Walls was a driving force in closing out on Western Hills’ most feared outside shooter, Zach Semones.
He also drew the defensive assignment down the stretch as Page employed box-and-one and diamond-and-one tactics to keep Semones — who entered the game averaging 22 points per game — from slashing to the basket.
“We battled. I tried about everything I could for a while,” Page said. “Carson’s been playing really well. He played last Tuesday against Frankfort, and then at Trinity he hurt himself in the JV game, so I wasn’t able to use him as much over the weekend. He plays so darn hard.”
Senior mainstay Michael McKenzie was the odd man out when Walls was inserted into the second-half lineup. It likely served as motivation. McKenzie rallied from a scoreless second period and only two points in the third to hit seven free throws down the stretch.
McKenzie finished with 17 points and three steals. The first two freebies were the result of a technical foul on Western Hills’ Rafael Ruiz after the third-period horn, granting GC a 46-44 lead to start the fourth.
“I was proud of Mike. I didn’t start him in the second half because I didn’t like what we were getting out of him in the first half,” Page said. “When he got his opportunity, the start of the fourth quarter when we got the two technical free throws, I said, ‘You gonna make ‘em?’ He said, ‘I got ‘em.’ Those I think were the encouragement for him and kind of got him right.”
Jaylen Barber and K.J. Tucker both added 10 points for GC. Western Hills (9-7, 3-1) held Barber in check with a 2-3 zone that collapsed on the 6-foot-8 center every time he caught the ball in the paint.
Barber grabbed nine rebounds and blocked five shots, while Neil Baker provided eight points and three assists to put GC back on track after losses to Trinity and Frederick Douglass over the weekend.
“It’s just been team chemistry so far,” Walls said of the Warhawks’ ups and downs. “(We’ve been) playing self ball. If we play like (we did tonight), we can start to finish games out toward the end. It gets us more energy for our next upcoming games.”
Barber’s dunk gave GC a 65-61 lead just before he fouled out with 1:47 remaining. Moments later, a deflection by Kalib Perry put the ball back in McKenzie’s hands.
Western Hills extended the game with fouls and by exhausting its full supply of timeouts, but McKenzie and Baker (4-for-4 from the line) protected the lead.
“The kids did a great job I thought playing for Great Crossing tonight and making sure that everything they did was about our unit and about our team,” Page said. “Everything we did was to make sure that we won, and nobody really cared tonight who did what.”
GC held Semones without a field goal until the fourth quarter. He wound up with 13 points.
Eric Gabbard (18 points, seven points) showed the way for the Wolverines, who will host the rematch in two weeks. Ruiz also concluded with 13 points.
“Our overall record is not what we were hoping for through 16 games, but at the end of the day it’s about the district games,” Page said. “Our goal is to keep improving in the other games, because we want to get to region.”
Kal Oakes can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.