MURFREESBORO — Any fears of Maplewood going through some early morning sleep-walking in their state tournament opener were quickly alleviated Thursday.
The Panthers growled as loudly as they have all year and came out with both guns blazing in a surprisingly easy 84-63 romp over Carter High in their Class AA state quarterfinal game at MTSU.
Center Robert Wade was at his best, pouring in 18 points, grabbing seven rebounds, blocking four shots and jamming in four rim-rocking slam dunks. It proved plenty enough as the Panthers advanced into their first semifinal appearance since 2001.
Wade led a parade of four players in double figures for the running and gunning Panthers who scored 49 points in the second half. They shot 63 percent for the game (34-of-54) and 68 percent the first half, mostly close to the rim and out-rebounded the Hornets 38-32.
Mr. Basketball finalist Lester Wilson had but nine points the first half for Carter, but wound up the game high scorer with 25, two under his average.
“It was fun, and I give props to my guards,’’ said Wade referring to a pair of alley-oop style slams, set up nicely by guards Jeffery Carter and Enrico Buchanan. “Our inside guys feed off our guards.
“Our defense (eight steals, four blocks) really set the tone. Defense wins games, offense sells tickets,’’ said the 6-5 Wade, who has signed with Morehead State.
Maplewood (25-7) jumped to a 6-0 lead, boosted it to 11-2 and 35-23 at the half. The Panthers led by as many as 24 (64-40) early in the final quarter. Wade’s final slam made it 79-56 before he came out.
“We woke up early and practiced early the past two days, preparing (for the 10 a.m.) start,’’ said fourth-year Coach Ty Wilson.
“I think with Carter on a different time zone (Eastern) than we were also played to our advantage,’’ Wilson said. “They had to adjust to the time difference. We’ve faced plenty of adversity this season, and we were relaxed and went out and had fun.’’
Jaleel Queary added 13 points, hitting 6-of-7 from the field before fouling out, while Darryl Clack, Fred Lee and Buchanan added 13, 12 and nine. Lee, a senior, had dished out eight assists.
“The shots started falling, and that really helps when you do that early, and we all did it together,’’ said Queary, “It was a good win, but our goal coming here is to win state, and that is our entire focus.’’
It shoves Maplewood into a semifinal berth Friday at 3:15 p.m. against Liberty Magnet, a 61-50 winner over Howard. Liberty is coached by former Maplewood boss Arnett Bodenhamer, a friend of Wilson’s.
“They were the fastest team we’ve played all year,’’ said Carter coach Tony Buell whose team ended 23-11. “They were up 10-12 points before we knew it, and at that point, you have to start making adjustments. Their defense set up their offense and, several times, they got steals and were off to the races.’’
Asked what it meant for the school, Clack said, “it’s very big, especially since we haven’t gotten this far since ’01. We have been jelling as a team lately.’’