No mystery about when and how Warren Central broke away to win Wednesday.
The Dragons, seemingly breathing fire on defense, rallied from a 21-20 halftime deficit by outscoring East Carter 22-2 in the third quarter.
Central went on to win the opening game of the PNC/KHSAA Boys' Sweet Sixteen 55-36.
"Defensively is how we won the basketball game," said Coach Tim Riley, whose 4th Region champs will take a 23-8 record into Friday's quarterfinals.
Never miss a local story.
Jordan Shanklin led the Dragons with 16 points and three steals. Shamarcus Wells, 4-for-5 from the field, added 11 points. Troy Halcomb added nine points — all in the third quarter — and four steals. George Fant led Central in rebounds (seven), assists (four) and blocks (two) and had five points and three steals. He also drew the task of guarding East Carter's Colt Barnhill, who averages 20.1 points.
In a battle of 6-foot-7 players, Barnhill scored six points in the first 4:11. He scored two the rest of the game, leading the Raiders with eight points and nine rebounds.
"I made an adjustment," Fant said. "I just stayed behind him mostly, just bodied him up whenever he came over — his right knee, right shoulder because he's a lefty."
Barnhill helped East Carter to an early 13-4 lead.
Warren Central scored the last eight points of the first quarter, and Wells accounted for the first four of the second quarter to put the Dragons on top 16-13.
Still, the Raiders led 21-20 at halftime. Riley said he was nervous because only 16 minutes remained, yet confident because of his team's defense.
"Even in the first half, I thought they were very, very uncomfortable with us," Riley said. "I thought they just did not enjoy ... us getting up in 'em."
Shanklin sensed the same.
"You could tell that they were a little bit uncomfortable with our speed and our quickness," he said.
Third quarter, Central scored 10 points before East notched its only basket of the period, a Barnhill turnaround shot at 4:41.
The Dragons made all but the last of nine field-goal attempts in the quarter. East Carter went 1-for-14 from the field, 0-for-3 at the free-throw line.
Halcomb, a 6-foot-1 senior, did most of his damage inside or along the baseline. Shanklin scored five points in the third quarter, which ended with Central leading 42-23.
The closest East Carter came from there was 14 points, 47-33, with 1:57 left.
"We got off to a really good start, a really good first half," said Brandon Baker, coach of the 16th Region champion Raiders. "Once Warren Central turned up the heat, turned up the pressure the second half — they're a good team. They made us play a little quicker, a little faster. Got us out of our comfort zone."
East Carter, after shooting 9-for-15 (60 percent) in the first half, went 5-for-27 (18.5 percent) in the second half.
Central improved from 9-for-21 (42.9 percent) to 11-for-15 (73.3 percent).
Overall, the Dragons were 20-for-36 (55.6 percent), including 4-for-7 (57.1 percent) from three-point range. East Carter finished 14-for-42 (33.3) and 3-for-15 (20.0).
Neither team was good at the free-throw line — Central 11-for-22, East 5-for-13.