The Panthers returned to new bleachers, fresh paint on the walls and a refurbished floor befitting a group of road warriors who won their first seven games to earn the No. 1 ranking in state Group 2A. But what really made it a night to remember was Marcus Carter.
Among those to hug him was his father, Brenner Carter, the first Bruton player to get to 1,000. Dad did that in 1978, when he led the Panthers to the AA state final, a feat Carter's teammates hope he can do this season.
“It was great for us and great for him,” teammate Lonnie Swinton, who scored 14 points, said of Carter's 1,000. “He's put a lot of time into basketball, and now he's going to do his best to help us get that (state championship) ring.”
Carter needed 14 points to reach the milestone, and did so early in the second quarter. He had dunked moments earlier, then hit the jumper to give the Panthers a 25-16 lead.
“I got kind of emotional, but I didn't show it,” Carter said.
Like playing at home, Carter's big moment energized the Panthers. Prior to his dunk, New Kent trailed only 21-16.
Blake Kelley (20 points) hit two of his four 3-pointers to lead a rally after Bruton opened the game on a 7-0 run. After Carter's big moment, the Panthers rolled, spurred on by a large student section and vocal crowd.
“We had a lot of fans on the road, but when you play for them at home, it brings a lot more energy,” Panthers guard Jalen Carr said.
Swinton added, “It felt great to be home. It gives you a lot of confidence to play in front of all of your friends and family.”
That confidence showed on the defensive end. During the second and third quarters, when the Panthers stretched that five-point margin into a 60-30 runaway, they forced 11 turnovers and limited the Trojans to 6-of-16 shooting.
“Regardless of the score, you want your players to give it their all,” Bruton coach Joe Dillard said. “They really stepped it up defensively in the second half.”
The Panthers will make a long trip Friday to Smithfield (7-1 district) in a battle for first place in the Bay Rivers.
“We've struggled there in the past,” Dillard said. “They're athletic, so it will be an up-and-down game, and the team that executes will win.”
It's something the Panthers have done plenty on the road. From the looks of things Wednesday, they'll do that plenty at home, too.
“My son (2011 grad Rodney Swanson) played for Bruton, so I've been coming to this gym for six years,” said Dr. Alexis Swanson, the school's first-year principal. “When I came in (as principal) and the first thing they told me was they were putting in new bleachers, I was very excited.
“It looks like a real gym now, and Marcus (Carter) and his dad made this first home game extra-special. It doesn't get better than that.”
BRUTON 84, NEW KENT 45
NEW KENT (4-5, 4-4): Block 7, Hale 2, Scorsone 7, Nash 2, Kelley 20, Whitlow 7. Totals 13 13-24 45.
BRUTON (8-0, 7-0): Carter 28, Rice 4, Swinton 14, Brown 3, Edwards 9, Doucet 8, Legaspi 6, Sangalang 6, Jones 6. Totals 30 20-22 84.
New Kent: 13, 14, 3 15 – 45
Bruton: 21, 23, 15, 25 – 843-point goals: New Kent 6 (Kelley 4, Block, Scorsone), Bruton 4 (Legaspi 2, Swinton, Carter). JV: Bruton won.