Carlton’s triple-double launches Spartans to regional tourney
KATY—As the stage gets bigger and better, with the pressure mounting higher and the lights shining brighter, Seven Lakes sophomore forward Justice Carlton is at her absolute best.
Carlton, averaging a double-double this postseason, was magnificent again Tuesday night, compiling 42 points, 21 rebounds, and 10 blocks in lifting the Spartans to a 69-46 win over Fort Bend Austin in their Class 6A Region III quarterfinal at the Merrell Center.
Carlton’s triple-double has Seven Lakes in the regional tournament for the first time since 2012-13.
“At this point, it’s not even about the points or the rebounds or the blocks anymore,” Carlton said. “It’s more about doing it for my teammates.”
.@JayMayya. #txhshoops @SLHSABC @THEspartanway7pic.twitter.com/PhE5iEDXKj— Dennis Silva II (@Dennis Silva II) 1645577776
As is her way, Carlton was dominant right from the start with 13 points, six rebounds, and two blocks in the first quarter. Coach Angela Spurlock had Carlton moving off the ball early and often, catching passes in myriad spots. Always keeping the defense on its heels.
“They had a dominance in the post position and a post player who could really defend the basket,” Spurlock said. “We had anticipated we’d be able to play a lot of outside-in, but in the game, we made adjustments and played inside-out. We took advantage of the matchups we were given.”
Carlton stands 6-foot-3, but she is lithe and quick with the ball. A power forward most of last season, she is more of a big wing forward this year. She doesn’t hesitate with the ball in her hands and almost always seems to know where she’s going to go before she catches a pass.
Even against Austin’s stud senior forward Gabby Johnson, the post player Spurlock spoke of, Carlton had no troubles. Her ability to dribble-drive, shoot, and pass makes her a matchup nightmare on the perimeter, and her footwork, strength, and second jump makes her practically indefensible near the rim.
“I kind of have to play different for every team that we play against,” Carlton said. “It really just depends on the defense. I’m blessed to be a player that can evolve off of teams who play 2-3s, or 1-2-2s, or man (defenses).”
.@JayMayya. Again. Seven Lakes doing a great job of moving her off the ball. #txhshoops @THEspartanway7 @SLHSABCpic.twitter.com/DCmXgRcbrT— Dennis Silva II (@Dennis Silva II) 1645575892
At halftime, Carlton had 26 points, 11 rebounds, and five blocks. She notched her triple-double with five minutes to spare in the game.
“She likes this atmosphere, and it’s a good thing to have a player like that on your team,” said Spurlock, who said she has been most impressed with Carlton’s demeanor in big games. “She’s going to be in these situations a lot in her career, so I’m glad she’s playing for Seven Lakes.”
Carlton had plenty of help as well.
Senior guard KK Tucker had 14 points and five rebounds. Seniors Aliyah Atiqi (four points, five rebounds, five assists) and Summer Halphen (seven points, three rebounds, three assists) were impressive getting Carlton the ball in areas cutting to the rim where she didn’t have to put the ball back down and could go straight up with it.
Time and time again, Carlton’s teammates passed up open looks to get Carlton more opportunity to get open, stressing the Bulldogs’ defense by playing deeper into possessions.
.@JayMayya! #txhshoops @THEspartanway7 @SLHSABCpic.twitter.com/4oBRyyoFlO— Dennis Silva II (@Dennis Silva II) 1645578554
“When push comes to shove, players have to know what their identity is as a team,” Spurlock said. “You’ve got to make sure the ball gets to the players that can make things happen. As unselfish as they are, Justice is unselfish herself, so it’s not hard to pass the ball to somebody who’s as unselfish as she is.
“I listened to her a lot tonight to tell people to shoot it. I admire that. Any player that can encourage her teammates to shoot the basketball, that’s a great thing.”
Seven Lakes is in the regional tournament for just the second time. Spurlock almost teared up when talking about how important it is for the program. She said it’s for the representation of every player that’s put on a uniform for Seven Lakes.
“The race isn’t over,” Spurlock said. “We made it to the regional tournament. That was our goal. But these players understand that the next game is the most important one.”
For Carlton, it’s a chance to keep hooping with her teammates.
“This is a new experience for all of us,” Carlton said, “one that I’m sure we’ll be able to make history with.”
.@THEspartanway7 sophomore @JayMayya talks about Spartans\u2019 regional quarterfinal win over FB Austin. Carlton had 44 points, 21 rebounds, 10 blocks to lead Seven Lakes back to regional tourney for first time since \u201812-13. #txhshoops @KatyISDAthletic @SpartanCrazies_ @SLHSABCpic.twitter.com/amimWNGYae— VYPE Houston (@VYPE Houston) 1645582245