Prior to tipoff Saturday, Warren Beaulah expressed a concern to his assistants.
The Carver coach told his staff he was worried the team — champions of Region 2AAA — would “come out flat” in its first round playoff game against Jackson-Atlanta. Beaulah’s fears were then realized, as the Tigers held a narrow 12-10 lead at the end of the first quarter.
But midway through the second period, Carver hit another gear, proving too much for the visitors to handle as the Tigers cruised to a 67-36 victory.
Afterward, Beaulah admitted his team started the game with a case of the jitters.
“It is the playoffs and these guys are teenagers,” he said. “We were just a little nervous. We just had to work the nerves out and I think we settled down.”
Did they ever.
The Tigers (19-7) began to distance themselves in the second quarter. Down 17-12, Carver went on an 18-4 run to take a 30-21 lead into the locker room. While the Tigers’ offense didn’t lose any steam in the third stanza — pouring in 19 points, its most in any quarter of Saturday’s win — the defense began to pick up as well. The hosts held Jackson (8-18) to just nine points, with two coming from the free throw line.
What changed after halftime?
Beaulah said Carver simply embraced being a heavy favorite.
“They’re a No. 4 seed and they probably came in here and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got nothing to lose. Just play hard. They’re the No. 1 seed, so all the pressure is going to be on them,’” Beaulah said. "I think we felt that pressure and we just said that we’re going to lock down on defense and get some easy baskets and move on from there. We came out and focused on the defensive end, got some turnovers and made a little run.”
Heading into the final period with a comfortable 49-30 advantage, Carver didn’t let up. The Tigers pounded the ball inside with success, scoring all 18 points in the final eight minutes in the paint or at the free throw line after getting fouled on forays to the hoop.
Those high-percentage shots might not have been there if not for Dreilon Freeman and Kimiun Woods. The senior duo combined to hit seven 3-pointers — four for Freeman and three for Woods — to force the Jaguars to come out of their base defense.
“When they’re hitting their threes, it helps us, because it definitely spreads the floor out,” he said. “Then that allows us to attack the basket and get a lot of easy layups for the guys.”
Still, as any coach must do, Beaulah had to find an area to critique despite winning by 31 points.
“I always tell them, ‘Don’t let the game come to you. You’ve got to go and take it — force it upon yourself.’ A lot of times we come out and we’re a little laid-back in the first quarter and it seems like it takes (us a little while) to get rolling,” he said, citing Saturday as one such example. “So that’s something we’re going to work on: being a little more aggressive from the jump. I think that’ll make the game a little easier for us in the first half.”
Carver now turns its attention to the second round. Aside from having another home game, the only thing Beaulah knew was that it’s scheduled for Tuesday; a time has not been set, but the coach believes tipoff will take place “around 6 p.m.”
Carver's opponent Tuesday will be Swainsboro. Also named the Tigers, Swainsboro finished as the runner-up in Region 3AAA (behind Washington County) and beat New Hampstead of Savannah 53-52 at home on Saturday.
If Carver is to make a deep run this postseason, Beaulah said they can use Saturday’s sluggish opening quarter as a good learning tool.
“They have to know that other teams aren’t going to lay down and we’ve just got to be ready to play,” he said. “No matter who you play at this time of year, everybody has that goal of winning the state championship. It’s going to get tougher every round.”
Saturday at Carver
Malik Sims 10, Larry Brown 8, Vickor Haynes 8, Kevin Ford 5, Malik Kelly 5.
Khane Pass 16, Dreilon Freeman 14, Kimiun Woods 11, Jawon Pass 7, Lorenzo Madden 5, Tyler Jones 4, Micah Ransome 4, Mekhi Brown 3, Giovannia Moore 2, Daniel Melvin 1. Records: Carver, 19-7; Jackson, 8-18. Next: Carver, vs. Swainsboro; Jackson, season over.