By ROCKY STANLEY — The Independent
MONDAY--East Carter mowed down 16th Region opponents all season long.
Monday night, the Raiders took advantage of a game-opening blitz and their best 3-point shooting of the season to end a 24-year drought between regional championships.
Kyle Bair and Caleb Adams buried triples in rapid-fire fashion as East Carter burst out to an 8-0 lead and went on to defeat Fairview 48-38 at Morehead State University.
The Raiders are 22-1 inside the region and looking forward to an opportunity to do some damage elsewhere with a trip to Rupp Arena ahead.
“We made it a goal at the beginning of the season to make it here, and win this game,’’ said Adams, a senior guard who led the Raiders with 13 points.
Adams’ father, Vic, played on East Carter’s only other regional championship team in 1986.
“I haven’t told anybody else, but Dad said there was nothing like this feeling,’’ Caleb said. “He’s right. Nothing compares to it.”
Uncharacteristically, East Carter featured the 3-pointer in getting past Fairview for Brandon Baker’s first regional title in eight years as head coach at his alma mater.
East Carter came in shooting 27 percent from long range, including 0-for-10 in the team’s regional opener. But Adams, Bair and backup guard Koty Buck hit two 3-pointers apiece in a 7-for-12 barrage from behind the arc.
“That was phenomenal,’’ said Colt Barnhill, the team’s standout post player who was named tournament MVP. “It made my job a lot easier. When the guards are 2-for-2 and 2-for-3 out there, all I’ve got to worry about is rebounding and playing defense.’’
The 6-foot-7 Barnhill did an excellent defensive job on Fairview sophomore Mike Terry, limiting him to 3-for-10 shooting from the field.
“Colt did a great job of keeping a hand in his face all night,’’ Baker said.
Barnhill also scored nine of his 11 points in the second half and also grabbed six rebounds. With Fairview concerned about keeping defenders around Barnhill, East Carter’s other players took advantage of open looks from the perimeter.
Bair and Buck each went 2-for-2 on 3-pointers, while Adams made two of three attempts and Tyler Clay was 1-for-2.
“Our supporting cast was really big,” Baker said. “When you’re making shots early it energizes you and makes you play harder on the defensive end.”
Fairview coach Derek Cooksey didn’t expect the Raiders to be so effective from the perimeter.
“I know East Carter was streaky during the season with their outside shooting,’’ he said. “It says a lot about their character to step up and make those shots. I know in the second half they really tried to go to Colt.’’
Cooksey said it came down to a matter of the Eagles picking their poison.
“East Carter spaced their shooters and was fanning the ball around,’’ Cooksey said. “Anytime you shoot 7-for-12 on threes, good things are going to come out of it.’’
East Carter (23-5) never let go of the early lead but Fairview stayed within striking distance until the final minute.
The Eagles closed to 12-11 early in the second quarter, but Adams connected on a trey from the corner and Buck followed with a three of his own.
The trend carried over to the second half, with Clay and Buck hitting 3-pointers in the third quarter to keep their team in front.
“When I let those (threes) go, it just felt good,’’ Buck said. ``My teammates put me in good spots and I had my feet set. Without the other guys driving to the basket and taking the pressure off, I couldn’t have hit those shots.’’
Even so, the Raiders couldn’t shake Fairview until late. The Eagles trailed only 37-33 midway through the fourth quarter but watched their hopes fade with missed free throws. Overall, Fairview was 3-for-12 at the foul line.
“I try not to mention it a lot, but that’s been our Achilles heel throughout the season,’’ Cooksey said.
East Carter put the game away as Adams and Bair combined to make seven consecutive free throws in the final 1:28.
Caleb Collins had 10 points to lead the Eagles (23-8).
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at email@example.com.
or (606) 326-2671.