RENO - If there has ever been a time this season for the Carson boys basketball team to step it up, Friday was the night.
Already missing standout senior forward Zach Weismann, the Senators not only were up against an inspired Wooster Colts team on Homecoming, but also a rowdy crowd that brought a playoff atmosphere to the game.
The Colts had rallied from an eight-point, third-quarter deficit and just given up a lead of their own. With the game tied, 58-58, it was up to Carson's sophomore guard Matt Rutledge and junior guard Will Holbert to pull the game out at the foul line.
The only thing more icy than the 15-degree weather outside Craig Congdon Gym at Wooster High School was the blood flowing through the veins of Rutledge and Holbert, who converted a combined 3-of-4 free throws to give Carson a thrilling 61-58 win over the Colts.
"They made it a little bit more exciting than I wanted them to," Carson coach Bruce Barnes said of his Senators, who improved to 2-0 in Sierra League play and 9-6 overall. "It was tough going in without our leading scorer and one of our better defenders (Weismann, who did not dress because he was sick). But that created the opportunity for Will to shine tonight."
Holbert had a team-high 21 points, including three 3-pointers - all in the first quarter.
"Every shot I shot went in," said Holbert, a wide receiver and free safety/cornerback for the Carson football team. "That's all I can say. It felt good when I let it go."
"His 3-point shot kept us in the first half," Barnes said of Holbert, whose third trey gave Carson an 11-9 lead in the first quarter after a 9-8 Wooster lead.
But it was Holbert's free throw (he missed the second one after a foul by Wooster's Benjamin Ahonima) with 8.2 seconds left that left it up to the Senators' defense to stop the Colts from hitting a 3-pointer to send it to overtime.
"The crowd definitely affected it and got into our head on the free throws," said Holbert, whose Senators went 14-of-23 from the charity stripe. "The free throws were hard to get down tonight."
After the clock was reset to 5.5 seconds, Wooster's Gaosa Tautolo inbounded the ball to Andrew Spang, who missed a fall-away three.
Wooster had one more opportunity with one second left, but Carson junior guard Zach Rispin stepped in front of Tautolo's inbounds pass to seal the victory.
"For whatever the reason we were a bit slow tonight," Barnes said. "We gave up way too many points in transition. But credit to the team (Wooster), they made us get out of what we wanted to do.
"(The Colts) played extremely hard. Other coaches have told us (they were good). He (Wooster coach Steve Clausen) has got their boat going in the right direction."
With the loss, the Colts' record fell to 0-4 in the Sierra League and 5-7 overall, but after Holbert converted a three-point play on a layup and a foul shot to give Carson a 56-54 lead, Wooster went on top with a 3-pointer by Ahonima, who finished with 14 points.
Darian Andrews, who along with Holbert finished with a game-high 21 points, hit one of a pair of free throws to bump the Colts' lead to 58-56, with 2:03 to go.
Holbert hit one of his two free throws to draw Carson within 58-57 with 1:58 remaining and Andrews and David Torres (13 points) both fouled out.
Zachary Mason reached in and fouled Rob Valerius, who tied the game 58-58 when he converted one of his two free throws with 1:24 to go.
Wooster, with its crowd standing and chanting the Colts' fight song, had a turnover. Ahonima then fouled a driving Rutledge, who converted both foul shots to give Carson its first lead since 2:29 of the fourth at 60-58.
"He's one of our better free-throw shooters," Barnes said of Rutledge. "If you're going to foul a guy, he's one we'd want you to foul."
Asked if he felt nervous before he made the go-ahead points, Rutledge, who finished with four points, shook his head.
"Not tonight," he said. "I just relax and try to zone into it and not let the crowd get into my head."
Rutledge said he had a rough night passing the ball, but when it came down to money time...
"I came down and executed," Rutledge said. "I pushed the ball down, got an easy layup and got the foul."
Barnes also singled out the play of sophomore forward Paul Cagle, who chipped in 13 points and came up big on defense.
"One key point that gets overlooked was the way Cagle takes the charge," Barnes said. "We preach that to death. It gave us huge, huge momentum and it took the air out of their sails on two occasions when they were making a run."
Valerius finished with 12 points and junior guard Caleb Carter added seven for the Senators, who will travel to play Hug at 5:15 p.m. today.
"We've won two in a row (to open league play) and we've won them on the road," Barnes said. "We're ready for Hug. You try and win the ones people think you're supposed to and try to steal one or two. We'll take any win on the road. It's like gold to me."
"They're playing well right now," Rutledge said of the Hawks. "They beat Reno. We're going to try and slow them down."
Rutledge said his team, which graduated seven seniors, is beginning to play with confidence.
"We're way ahead of where I thought we'd be," he said. "I knew we'd be young, but I thought it would be halfway through the season before we'd come together. We've bonded together real easily."