Carlton scores 44 as Seven Lakes takes share of 19-6A title

Carlton scores 44 as Seven Lakes takes share of 19-6A title (Copyright (c) 2022 VYPE - All rights reserved)

KATY—Seven Lakes girls basketball coach Angela Spurlock divides the season into three parts.

Season one is preseason. Scrimmages. Non-district play. It gets the Spartans ready for the tests, Spurlock said.

“And around here at Seven Lakes, with grades the way they are, we’re used to studying,” Spurlock joked.

Season two is district play, a contentious and prideful point of the season for a Spartans program not long removed from seven straight district titles.

Those quizzes from the non-district preseason paid off, Spurlock said after Tuesday’s 67-54 win over Cinco Ranch. Rewards were reaped as Seven Lakes, which won for the 30th time in 36 games and ended district play with a 10-2 record, avenged an earlier loss to the Cougars and secured a share of the 19-6A title, Seven Lakes’ first in four years.

“Tonight’s game was a culmination of everything from season one and everything we learned about ourselves in season two,” Spurlock said. “Correcting mistakes that were glaring in losses. Playing uptempo. Changed defenses a little bit. And I think that tempo allowed them (Cinco Ranch) to get out of rhythm.”

A loss would have slid Seven Lakes from a top seed and homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs to the third seed and playing a top seed from District 20-6A in a road game.

“Anytime you can get back to the top, that’s always good,” Spurlock said. “We’re glad to be back. The kids have earned that right. Tompkins did a good job, too, and we’re proud to own that slot with them.”

Cinco Ranch, which will be the third seed out of 19-6A going into the playoffs, with wins over the Spartans and Tompkins, bested Seven Lakes with ease in the first round of district play in a 74-51 win. Freshman star guard Aniya Foy scored 27 points and the Cougars made six threes.

On Tuesday, the Spartans were the aggressors. And it was Seven Lakes sophomore sensation Justice Carlton who stole the spotlight.

Carlton scored 14 of her career-high-tying 44 points in the first quarter. She made 16 2-point baskets, from inside, mid-range, and the outside. She knocked in one of two 3-point attempts. She made nine of 11 free throws.

Spurlock used Carlton all over the court. On offense, Carlton often went high-to-low in her movement and kept the defense on its heels, agile and quick enough to catch on the move and often score without putting the ball on the floor.

Defensively, she was used at the top of the Spartans’ press, which played a tall hand—no pun intended for the 6-foot-3 Carlton—in forcing 25 turnovers. Carlton had 10 rebounds, four blocks, and four steals.

“Last year, I was mostly on the block,” Carlton said. “But playing over the summer, going to USA basketball and stuff, I just can’t sit down there, especially when those girls are pushing 6-8. It definitely has changed from last year. I’m playing all-around. Shooting outside, shooting off the dribble, off of cuts. It’s definitely what I want to be doing.”

Carlton’s offensive prowess engineered Seven Lakes’ 14-4 start. But it was the relentless defensive play of senior guard Aliyah Atiqi that also made a drastic impact for the Spartans.

Atiqi had three steals in the first quarter and was the initial defender on Foy. Atiqi showed off quick hands, fast feet, and seasoned smarts in stymying Cinco Ranch ballhandlers.

“My role is to bring defensive energy and that’s what we needed to focus on,” said Atiqi, who captained the team’s defensive communication. “The last game against Tompkins, we were not on the same page and our defense was terrible. For this game, we prepared and worked, and my job was to step up and help us get this win.”

Atiqi’s stat line was nothing showy, but she made winning plays. She finished with four steals, three rebounds, three assists, and a clutch 3-pointer from the left corner in the third quarter that extended the Spartans’ lead from six to nine.

Atiqi and sophomore Caitlyn Quintero, who came off the bench for two steals, two rebounds, and a nice bucket in the second half, were difference-makers when it mattered most.

“They were big,” Spurlock said. “Anytime we decided to put pressure on, our back row has to come up and decide to play bigger than they are. They have to be aggressive, finish traps. Get touches. We got a few more deflections, and they definitely earned the win.”

Foy finished with 17 points, nine rebounds and four steals, but picked up three fouls with 3:09 left in the first half and never got into a groove the rest of the way. Nine of her points came in the first quarter.

Cinco Ranch made only two 3s on Tuesday as Seven Lakes was better closing out to shooters. The Cougars never sustained a flow offensively due to all the turnovers: four in the first quarter, five in the second, nine in the third, and seven in the fourth.

“We picked up the tempo a bit,” Spurlock said. “We played a different style. We put in some things. We’ve learned a lot since we started about our team and about the things we have to do coming into season three.”

Season three is the playoffs, which start up next week.

The Spartans lost in the first round last year, but with a rapidly evolving Carlton and a stronger supporting cast like Atiqi and senior guards KK Tucker and Summer Halphen, among others, Seven Lakes is eager to see what lies ahead after its first district title since the 2017-18 season.

“It’s a dream,” Atiqi said. “We’ve been talking about it since freshman year, and it’s been our goal since the beginning. Even though we lost to Tompkins last week, we knew we had this game and still had a chance to be district champs. We haven’t been there in a while and we’re really proud of where we are right now.”