Picking up its scoring pace to match its tenacious defensive effort, Caro made a one-point halftime lead over Vassar seem like a distant memory by the time the final horn sounded on its 48-32 Greater Thumb West boys’ basketball win over the Vulcans on Friday.
The game was to benefit cancer awareness.
The Tigers set the tone early defensively by holding Vassar to five points in the first quarter, but it took a while for Caro to find its rhythm offensively.
Leading 9-5 after the opening eight minutes, Caro saw Vassar respond with a 12-9 edge in second-quarter scoring that cut the Tigers’ deficit to 18-17 by halftime.
Hitting the reset button after halftime, Caro’s third quarter was its best of the night in terms of point differential (+11). Matching their defensive intensity from the first quarter, the Tigers were able to once again limit the Vulcans to five points while scoring 16 of their own.
“I was really impressed with the effort the kids gave coming out for the second half,” said first-year Caro coach Steve Clark. “The first half was a good, close game with some bright spots mixed in, but the second half intensity we played with was the difference in the game.”
Taking a 12-point lead into the fourth quarter at 34-22, Caro wasn’t threatened the rest of the way as it rode its momentum to the finish line.
The Tigers improved to 3-6 (2-2 GTC West), while the Vulcans fell to 3-5 (0-2 GTC West).
Tyler Foster led Caro with a career-high 13 points to go with three steals, Caleb Cotton contributed 12 points, seven rebounds and three steals, Trevin Phillips had eight points with seven rebounds and Chris Walker and Syrus Strachan grabbed 10 and nine rebounds each, respectively. Caro finished with 39 rebounds as a team.
Dylan Hubbard matched Foster to lead the Vulcans with his game-high 13 points and six rebounds, Luke Albrecht had seven points and three steals, Ricardo Macon contributed six rebounds and two steals and Gideon Damm blocked three shots for Vassar.
“This game was won on the defensive end,” said Clark. “Our kids are finally starting to realize some of the potential that I’ve seen in them from the start, and they’re starting to understand where their skills are best suited.
“As that continues to happen, they’re finding themselves in positions to be successful,” he added. “It also leads to more options for us so teams can’t look to just focus on Trevin. We’re coming together as a team and playing as a unit instead of as five individuals, especially on the defensive end.”
Clark said he hopes Foster’s confidence continues to grow along with the Tigers’ coach’s expectations for the junior guard.
“The sky’s the limit for that kid. I’ve been telling him that since the eighth grade,” said Clark of Foster. “He’s had a couple of other nice games for us too, and we’re coming to look for more scoring from him.”
Foster has a lot of trust in his coach’s teachings.
“He keeps telling me to drive, drive, drive, and I’ve done more of it this year,” said Foster. “It’s a team effort, not just Trevin in the post.”
Phillips leads the Tigers in both scoring and rebounding, averaging a double-double. The 6-foot, 5-inch junior third-year varsity player is the backbone of the team, but is very happy with the development of his teammates taking some of the pressure off him as the target of opposing defenses.
“We always expect to get a good contribution from Caleb, and Tyler stepped up with some big plays for us toward the end of the game to help us seal the deal,” said Phillips.
“We rely on our defensive play,” he added. “We’re working on our offense, but we’re still a pretty young team with just a few seniors. Our guards are improving, and that’s what we really need.”
Second to Phillips in scoring for Caro is Cotton, who averages more than nine points per game.
“The first half was a closely contested game, so we’ve got some deficiencies we’ve got to work on,” said Cotton. “I gained more confidence as the game wore on, and we really picked up our intensity in the second half. That was the difference-maker.”
Adam Smith is sports editor at The Advertiser and can be reached at email@example.com.