Carthage holds off Carl Junction in close contest

Feb. 6—CARTHAGE, Mo. — Tuesday's Central Ozark Conference battle between Carthage and Carl Junction was tightly contested from start to finish at Carthage High School.

The Tigers (13-6) pulled out a narrow 59-50 victory after sinking most of their late free throws and thanks to a 14-point second half from junior Dylan Pugh.

"Dylan holds himself to a really high standard with all the time he puts in the gym," Carthage head coach Nathan Morris said. "So we challenged him and everybody at halftime to come out a little more confident and a little stronger.

"Dylan was the difference there to stretch that out for us with big shots."

Pugh got himself going with a 3-pointer late in the third period to put the Tigers back on top at 35-32.

"It's always good to get confidence and see one fall in. It's nice," Pugh said. "It's also nice when your teammates work to get you open and the coaches are calling plays for you when you get hot."

He scored Carthage's first 6 points of the final period with two more 3-pointers to make it 44-39. A little later he got his third 3-point attempt in a row to give the Tigers a 49-40 lead.

"I thought our defensive effort was pretty good," CJ head coach Justin Pock said. "We let 12 (Pugh) get a lot of big shots. Coming in, we knew (Justin) Ray was a big threat but I thought we guarded him well."

Pugh also added two free throws after getting fouled in crunch time. He made both and stretched the lead out to 56-45 with less than a minute to go. He missed two attempts at the charity stripe later. The junior guard finished with 14 points — all in the second half — and shot 2 for 4 on free throws.

Brody Pant had made two free throws after attacking the basket and drawing a foul to cut the lead to 56-47 after Pugh's two free shots. When Pugh missed the next two, it looked like CJ might take advantage.

Deacon Endicott attacked the basket, made a layup and drew a foul. Endicott cashed in on the charity to finish an old-fashioned 3-point play and make it 56-50 with 31.6 seconds remaining in the game.

"We did a good job to keep it close, but then we had to foul and Carthage did a good job keeping it away from us and then making their free throws," Pock said.

Carthage's Justin Ray made good on two free throws to make it 58-50 after being fouled immediately after the inbound pass.

The Bulldogs (9-10) didn't get another shot to fall the rest of the game as Endicott missed a layup on the next possession. That miss did bounce out near the top of the key to Jett Hocut, who then backed it up and took a tough triple with Ray in his face that went in and out.

CJ fouled one more time, and Trent Yates made one of two freebies to get the final score of 59-50.

"I told our guys it was going to be a knock-down, drag-out game," Morris said. "Carl Junction's on their last tour in the COC so those kids obviously probably wanted to beat Carthage for the last time as COC members. (Carl Junction does) a good job of playing physical."

Pugh led four players in double figures for Carthage. Ray added 13, Kruz Castor scored 13, and Taylor Stevens-Diggs chipped in 10.

Ray was being guarded closely all game and even drew double teams in the second half, especially fourth quarter. But the senior shooter managed a trey in each of the first three quarters and added 4 points on 4-of-4 free throw shooting in the final frame.

"They were taking Justin Ray away. Face-guarding him really well and I thought he made the right passes with dump downs to Kruz and Taylor when we needed it," Morris said.

CJ had four players score 6 or more points in the game and Pock talked about his team's depth and ability to get points from multiple players.

"I think we share the ball well. Everybody can knock it down, and I think that makes us hard to guard," he said.

The Bulldogs got 14 points from Pant and 10 more from Endicott. Wyatt McAfee added 8 while Cooper Vediz contributed 6. Jett Mills even scored a quick 5 in the second quarter while Jett began the fourth quarter with a quick 5 to actually put the Bulldogs ahead 39-38 for a short moment.

Mills provided valuable minutes off the bench with those points and having to defend Carthage's top scorer most of his time on the floor in Ray.

"He's an energy-and-effort guy," Pock said. "He can lock people down. He's good at distributing. He's just an all-around player. He doesn't take any plays off."

Carthage is now 3-1 in conference play and has two consecutive wins. There are five COC games left on the schedule with three straight on the road (Ozark, Nixa and Branson) and two straight at home (Willard and Neosho).

"We've challenged our guys since Day 1. We've had some decent records in the past. Been above .500 but somehow manage to be 4-5 in conference," Morris said. "We've challenged these guys to be different. To not be in the middle of the pack."

The Tigers head to Ozark (7-13) for a makeup game at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and then go to Nixa (14-5) on Friday at the same time.