With February right around the corner and the Sierra League's fourth and final playoff spot still up for grabs, the Carson Senators boys basketball team came out fast against Damonte Ranch Tuesday at Morse Burley Gym.
The Senators stretched an 8-0 lead into an 18-5 first quarter advantage and, save for a few rough minutes in the second quarter and a short stretch during the third and fourth quarters, they hit their shots and used a strong defensive game to dismantle the Mustangs, 61-44.
"I think we came out ready to play," said Carson coach Bruce Barnes, whose team improved to 5-5 in Sierra League play and 12-11 overall. "The guys know from here on out they have to be ready to play.
"We got stuck on 25 for quite a while and we missed some shots, but our defense was pretty good tonight, I'm happy with any win we can get this time of the year."
Junior guard Will Holbert led the Senators with 24 points and sparked his team with nine first-quarter points, including a 3-pointer that gave Carson a 13-3 lead with 2 minutes, 18 seconds remaining in the period.
"He's one of the pieces of the puzzle," Barnes said of the 6-foot-1 Holbert, who also added seven points in the third quarter. "He's an awfully athletic guy. He's always in position to get rebounds and shoot the ball. He's a tough matchup for people."
A Holbert layup gave Carson its biggest first-half lead -25-7 - on a layup with 5:15 to go. Over a 75-second span in the third quarter, he converted 3-of-4 free throws to give Carson a 33-17 lead with 5:06 remaining.
After the Mustangs went on an 11-2 run to chop the lead to 35-28 in the third quarter, Holbert followed with a layup and a fade-away putback at the buzzer to preserve the Senators' lead at 39-28.
Damonte Ranch would get as close as seven when a Britt Burns 3-pointer made it 43-36 with 6:11 to go in the game, but junior Rob Valerius found Holbert for a layup to build the lead back up to nine.
A 17-foot jumper by Paul Alexander cut the score to 48-39, but Caleb Carter's pair of free throws and a Holbert putback pretty much put the game out of reach at 52-39 with 3:08 to go.
Carter had nine points for Carson, which also got eight more from Zach Weismann and six from Paul Cagle. Valerius added four points, four assists and four rebounds, unofficially.
Burns had a team-high 13 points - including three 3-pointers - and Alexander added 12 for Damonte Ranch.
While the Senators have been playing a team game, getting contributions from a variety of players, Holbert has been making his presence felt by opposing teams.
"At the beginning of the season I wasn't used to varsity, being on JV last year," Holbert said. "I was trying to get used to it. I'm starting to get into the flow of the game. We move the ball and try to get it to open cutters. I get a lot of mine on backdoor and stuff, down in the post. (As a tall) guard I get some undersized guys. I can post up on the guys who guard me."
Holbert said Barnes had a message for his team prior to the game with the Mustangs.
"Coach is always telling us to box out this team and get as many rebounds as we can," Holbert said. "He told us if we're competing with Douglas and Hug and give them a good game, we can come out and compete with these guys."
That theme doesn't figure to change over the course of the final two weeks of the regular season.
"Every team we play from here on out is in competition for a playoff spot," Barnes said. "Friday we have North Valleys. They're trying to get the last playoff spot and so are we. If we do what we're capable of, we'll make the playoffs. They're one more tough team we have to play on the road. If we knock off North Valleys, we're in the driver's seat."
Holbert said he, too, is hoping for a playoff run, but first things first.
"We have to beat North Valleys first of all," Holbert said. "After that, we have to beat the teams we're supposed to beat - Wooster and South Tahoe. If we can get Reno, that would be good too. But we have to concentrate on the games we have left and not let one we're supposed to get slip away from us."
Although he will have some help from his teammates, there's one player for North Valleys who is sure to have a say about Friday's battle for the last spot for a spot in the Northern 4A regional playoffs- flaming-hot shooting guard Archie Kovich, who lit up the Senators for 35 points in an 88-84 Carson win on Jan. 19.
"Archie's going to get his shots," Barnes said. "Because we're going to their place it's sometimes easier to play because he has the green light to shoot. He's as good as an athlete as there is - in football and basketball - in Northern Nevada."
"We'll be ready; he'll be ready," Holbert said of Kovich. " He'll shoot from anywhere. We'll be ready. I think we got them."
The Senators-Panthers game begins at 5:15 p.m. at North Valleys High School.