The Bulldogs got off to an ice-cold start and made one final push before falling to Handley 53-43 Wednesday night.
Carbon Hill needed three quarters to find its offense. The Bulldogs cut Handley’s 13-point lead down to two points in the final quarter, but the Tigers took over down the stretch, making 12 free throws to secure the Central Regional Tournament victory at Alabama State’s Dunn-Oliver Acadome.
“We just couldn’t make shots. That’s what it comes down to,” Carbon Hill coach Robert Epps said. “They did a good job of defending us, but to win you have to make plays.”
Handley takes on Dora at 5:20 p.m. Friday with the winner advancing to the Final Four State Tournament in Birmingham.
Carbon Hill (22-10) scored just two points in the first quarter and never led in the game.
Handley pushed its lead to as many as 13 points at 32-19 with 2:34 left in the third quarter. The Bulldogs didn’t go down without a fight.
Behind the play of Gerald Smith and Ryan Simerly, Carbon Hill cut into the lead. Back-to-back scores by Simerly cut the gap to 38-32 with 4:20 left. From there, Smith hit a pair of free throws, Simerly made a basket and Chandler Gann knocked down two free throws to make the score 40-38 with 2:51 left.
Carbon Hill’s chances took a hit at the 2:23 mark when leading scorer Smith fouled out, leaving the Bulldogs without a go-to offensive player.
Handley made just one basket in the fourth quarter, but connected on 16 free throws.
For the game, Handley (26-7) made 24-of-41 free throws while Carbon Hill connected on 14-of-26. The Bulldogs also made just 1-of-13 3-pointers.
Carbon Hill trailed 9-2 after the first quarter and 22-13 at the half. Handley took a 35-24 lead into the fourth quarter.
Despite fouling out, Smith had a double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds, Simerly put in eight points, Kirkland had seven and Woodard and Gann each had five points.
For Handley, Travius Duncan had a game-high 28 points while Semaj Nunn added 12.
The game marked the final contest for five Carbon Hill seniors: Garrett Kirkland, Isaac Slaton, Ryan Simerly, Daniel Woodard and Jon Bray.
“We’ve been blessed. These five seniors gave it everything they had. You can’t ask any more from them,” Epps said. “We won a bunch of games with them.”