RENO - Led by Nevada's all-time leading prep scorer and University of Nevada signee Armon Johnson, the high-flying Hug Hawks have been feasting on their competition this season.
And with the Carson Senators missing their leading scorer - Zach Weismann - the Hawks couldn't be blamed if they thought their prey would be easy pickings on Saturday.
But it was the Senators who nearly turned into the predator and the Hawks escaped with a 57-56 win at Hug High School when Carson guard Markus Adams' 40-footer at the buzzer sailed over the backboard.
"The kids battled tonight," said Carson coach Bruce Barnes. "They left it all on the court. I have no complaints. We came up a little short, that's all."
Johnson led the Hawks with 31 points, but missed a pair of free throws with 37 seconds remaining in the game and Hug up 55-54.
After a Carson timeout, Hug's James Blackford fouled junior Will Holbert, who made both free throws to give the Senators a 56-55 lead with 15 seconds to go.
Johnson drove into the paint, missed a shot and got the rebound and layup to give the Hawks a 57-56 lead with 3.4 seconds remaining on the clock.
"The best player in the gym got the ball," Barnes said of Johnson. "He missed, but he was good enough to get it back. He's a very good player. You have to tip your cap to him. You're never going to contain him. You're never going to stop him. Most of his shots were contested. But a good player makes tough shots."
Carson managed to inbound the ball safely, but Adams couldn't get a good look on his desperation shot.
Hug coach Brian Voyles, whose Hawks are now 4-0 in the Sierra League and 15-3 overall, let out a sigh of relief and shook his head before discussing the game.
"Carson's discipline on the offensive end got them pass after pass after pass," Voyles said. "They took good shots. We shouldn't have won this game. They took better shots."
Junior forward Rob Valerius had a team-high 15 points for the Senators, who are now 2-1 in league and 9-7 overall. Holbert added 14 points and junior forward David Eller added nine.
"David Eller came in and gave us some good minutes off the bench," Barnes said. "He scored inside and guarded the post. He had a very good game tonight. Will had a good game and Rob Valerius played probably his best game of the year."
Voyles also commended Eller.
"He came in salivating, wanting to get the ball in the post," Voyles said. "Carson took better shots. We took tougher shots. It probably should have gone the other way."
The Hawks went up by nine points - 44-35 - on a Johnson 3-pointer with 3:57 left in the third quarter, but Carson started turning the tide with a layup by Joe Leatham. Holbert nailed a long two and Valerius followed with a layup to clip the lead to 44-41 with 2:17 to go in the quarter.
After the teams exchanged free throws, Carson sophomore forward Paul Cagle scored two of his eight points to make it 45-44. With three seconds to go in the third, Caleb Carter found Holbert for a layup and the Senators took a 46-45 lead into the fourth quarter.
Carson led 8-4 in the early going, but the Hawks held on to the lead after going ahead, 11-8, on a Johnson three with 1:47 to go in the first quarter. The Hawks led by as many as 10 twice in the first half, when they outrebounded and outshot the Senators, who had several turnovers.
Hug took a 34-27 lead into the half.
"They're a step quicker at most of the positions," Barnes said. "We were running a box-and-one. The bad side of the box-and-one is that it leaves you vulnerable on the defensive glass. We had a couple of missed assignments, but the box-and-one is tough to rebound out of."
Carson enjoyed two three-point leads (48-45 and 50-47) on a pair of Valerius layups to open the fourth quarter. Hug went on a 6-0 run on a Johnson dunk (he missed the free throw after being fouled on the play), a Duke Williams layup and a pair of free throws by Johnson.
A Holbert putback closed the gap to 53-52 with 2:05 to go. Johnson hit two more free throws, but Eller followed up a Holbert miss with a putback and it was 55-54, with 56 seconds remaining.
Johnson missed a shot in the paint, where he was fouled by Matt Rutledge. Johnson's pair of missed free throws began the closing sequence where Holbert gave Carson the lead.
"He's just tough," Voyles said of Johnson. "When he gets the ball that close in, you think at that point he'll get the foul or get the basket (with 3.4 seconds remaining). He's hard to stop. We were fortunate we got in that position. The way everyone else was playing, I didn't feel good if Johnson did not have the ball.
"We did a lot of good things before the Reno game (a Hawks win). Since then, our fundamentals have slipped. It's a good thing we have three days off (before playing Wooster). We have time to rebound."
Taking a breather was also on the mind of Barnes, who took no real solace with the close loss.
"Obviously we're not into moral victories," Barnes said. "We're way past moral victories. They know they gave a good effort. Unfortunately, we came up on the short end.
"We've got Douglas (in Minden) on Tuesday. It's a big night. It's always a great high school atmosphere (at Douglas High School). We're going to rebound and get back into it (practice) Monday. They (the Tigers) have a huge height advantage. We have to figure out how to contain them."
The Carson-Douglas boys' game will begin Tuesday at 7 p.m. and will be preceded by the Carson-Douglas girls' game at 5:15.
Notes: Weismann missed his second consecutive game due to illness. Barnes said he didn't know when Weismann would return and that several other players are also playing sick.
CHS FROSH 64, HUG 46
Beau Bickel scored 19 points, Ian Gunn had 11 points, David McMasters, David Charles, Patrick Smith, Uriel Duran and Shayne Mooney all had four points, Jeff Davies, Mike Lowes and Josh Peacock all had three points, Caelen Sanders and Brennan Shaffer each had two points and Ian Witter added one point for Carson (10-1, 3-0).