FLINT – A raucous crowd, including Michigan State men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo, packed Ballenger Field House at Mott Community College on Thursday night, as the Carman-Ainsworth boys’ basketball team lost to Flint Beecher 57-50.
The Cavaliers held a double-digit lead over Beecher in the first-half, but the top-ranked team in Div. 3 stormed back to steal the victory at the inaugural Steven Schmidt Roundball Classic.
“Instead of us being the aggressor, we tried to hang on to that little seven-point lead,” said Cavs’ coach Jay Witham. “We became passive. They felt that and pressured us even more. We kind of started to point fingers at people, and our demeanor changed. We preached about attacking, attacking, attacking, but then we started settling.”
Carman-Ainsworth exploded out of the gates, as Jayden Nunn’s three-pointer and Donnal Conway’s dunk gave the Cavs a 5-0 lead in the opening minutes. Dustin Fletcher led Carman-Ainsworth for the remainder of the quarter, scoring 10 of his 14 points as the Cavs’ lead blossomed to a 20-10 advantage by the end of the opening frame.
The momentum continued in the second quarter, as Carman-Ainsworth built a 31-19 lead after Dustin Fletcher’s layup with 1:13 remaining. Beecher went on a 6-2 run to close the half, including sophomore Kenyon Menifield’s floater as time expired.
“We worked on breaking the press, and we told them once we break the press, we need to have an attack mindset and get to the basket,” continued Witham. “We did that, and we also were able to defend well and rebound the ball. We actually got layups, easy buckets and some run-outs.”
The Buccaneers didn’t waste time coming out the break, as Jaylen Terry’s free-throw line jumper tied the game at 35-35 with just under four minutes left in the third quarter. The Cavaliers didn’t regain the lead until under two minutes left, when Mehki Ellison’s swooping layup gave Carman- Ainsworth a 38-37 lead. On the final play of the third, Nunn rebounded his own miss for a put-back layup at the buzzer, leaving Beecher with a 43-40 advantage.
Carman-Ainsworth had a chance to tie the game on the first play of the fourth, as Michael Fletcher was fouled as he finished a layup. However, his missed free throw left the Cavs in a 43-42 hole from which they would never climb out. Beecher ended the quarter on a 14-8 run, giving the game its final score.
“We got some stuff to learn, and I’ll take the blame on that,” said Witham. “We need to work on more situational stuff to put these guys in more pressure situations.”
Nunn led Carman-Ainsworth with 16 points, while Dustin Fletcher added 14 points.
“He played solid,” said Witham of Nunn. “He has a good basketball IQ, but it has to get better, especially when it’s pressure situations. Once again, he’s only a sophomore, and he’s growing and getting through learning pains.”
Even with the heart-breaking loss, Witham relished in the Roundball Classic’s atmosphere.
“It was beautiful,” said Witham of the standing-room-only crowd at Ballenger Fieldhouse. “It was awesome. I liked the venue because everybody was on top of each other. It was fiery. I know more people would be able to come out and see it at Dort Federal, but then (fans) are further away from the court. I like it with everyone right on top of the court.”
Carman-Ainsworth, 6-2, hosts Flushing, 4-2, this Friday at 7:30 p.m.