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Carroll breaks inside, holds off Allentown Central Catholic

Archbishop Carroll's Kiyl Mack, seen in a game with Cheltenham in January, scored a career-high 19 points to go with 10 rebounds as Carroll beat Allentown Central Catholic, 64-57, in the first round of the PIAA Class 4A Tournament Friday. (Gene Walsh/MediaNews Group)

BETHLEHEM — As Archbishop Carroll entered the locker room at halftime Friday evening, it didn’t take much to divine what was missing for the Patriots.

Yes, they had led the entire first half until Nicholas Filchner’s buzzer-beating, step-back 3-pointer sent Allentown Central Catholic into the break up a point. But with just four combined points from their big men and an unsustainable hit rate from 3-point range, the remedy was clear: Carroll had to pierce the Vikings’ aggressive 2-3 zone by going inside.

It took all of three possessions in the second half, all passed through the hands of junior pivot Tairi Ketner, to ingrain a plan that would eventually earn Carroll a victory.

Ketner scored 14 points and grabbed 17 rebounds as Carroll pulled in the third and hung on in the fourth for a 64-57 win in the first round of the PIAA Class 4A tournament at Bethlehem Liberty’s Memorial Gymnasium.

Carroll (16-10), the third seed from District 12, advances to Tuesday’s second round to take on Lancaster Catholic, the District 3 runner-up that beat Northwestern Lehigh 63-46 Friday.

Filchner’s triple only made official what Carroll knew, that the first-half effort lacked the requisite balance. Great as it was that Kiyl Mack stepped up with 14 first-half points (a season high for him), that plan wouldn’t be enough to hold off the District 11 runner-up.

So into the paint they went.

“We were only down by one, so our coach was saying, be calm, keep our heads,” Ketner said. “It’s only a one-point game. We just need to take it one possession at a time on defense and offense.”

Ketner scored on his first two touches of the half and was fouled on the third. He recorded a double-double in the second half alone, with 11 points and 11 boards.

With Ketner and Anquan Hill, who supplied four third-quarter points, threatening in the lane, Carroll restored balance. The Patriots shot just 2-for-10 from 3-point range in the first half, then 3-for-8 after the break. All three makes were provided by Luke House, exploiting the short corner opened by help defenders crashing to mitigate the threat of Ketner, to tally 20 points.

“It drew the defense to him because he got going early in the second half,” point guard Ny’mire Little said. “It opened up for our shooters, especially Luke.”

Finding ancillary sources of offense ultimately separated the teams. For Allentown, plan A was Chad Kratzer shooting. Plan B was cleaning up Kratzer misses.

The senior guard led the Vikings with 20 points, but he was just 7-for-24 from the field and a visibly frustrating 3-for-8 at the line. Most of the misses were tallied with Little’s hand in his face.

“You’ve got to bring a lot of intensity on defense,” Little said. “So my coaches preached that to me, to bring a lot of intensity, a lot of pressure. With good players like that, keep your hands up, stay active and always be close to him because he’s a great shooter.”

Second-chance points were a boon for ACC (17-10) in the first half, led by Liam Joyce’s six. But Ketner led Carroll to a 48-32 edge on the boards, widened by a plus-12 margin after the break.

“For me, any time I see that ball come off the rim or anywhere, I want to be the first to get it,” Ketner said. “My mindset is that, that basketball’s mine.”

Mack finished with a career-high 19 points to go with 10 rebounds and two blocks. Little had six points and six assists.

Joyce finished with 10 points and eight boards for ACC. Filchner and Jaylen Green scored eight points each, Green adding seven rebounds.

A House corner 3-pointer fueled an 8-0 run in the third that put Carroll up for good, but a 5-0 Kratzer run to end the third and start the fourth narrowed the gap to two. Carroll stretched it again to eight via a House triple.

For a team that saw an 18-point lead evaporate in the Catholic League quarterfinal against La Salle, no lead would be quite large enough to alleviate all concern, and ACC duly trimmed the spread to three in the final minute. But with Mack hitting 3 of 4 from the line, Ketner and company exorcised their demons.

“Every time we think about the PCL, that hurt us big time,” Ketner said. “So now these big games, they taught us a lesson of how to keep our composure when games get tight.”

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