By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BLUEFIELD, Va. —
A Carpenter’s work is finished at the Dome Gymnasium.
Byron Carpenter completed a remarkable three-year career at Bluefield College, scoring 32 points and pulling down eight rebounds, leading the Rams to a season-ending Mid-South Conference 75-63 win over Cumberland, Tn., on Saturday afternoon at the Dome Gymnasium.
“It went by too fast,” Carpenter said. “I know when I first got here I didn’t talk to nobody, I was shy, and now I am here, about the graduate and just played my last game.”
Carpenter finished with 1,795 points, the second most over the last decade at Bluefield, trailing only Curtis Dixon, who had 1,909 points in four seasons.
“It just came along with playing hard,” Carpenter said. “That is all I did every game, I just gave my all and tried to get as many ‘Ws’ as I can.”
Those wins were often scare this season in the first season in the MSC for the Rams (10-17, 5-15), but Bluefield did recover from a nine-game losing streak to win three of its last five, and two in a row.
“I think we figured it out,” Carpenter said. “We have got to play hard the whole stretch of the game. We can’t take plays off. We just won our last two so I feel good for the team coming in next year.”
Bluefield did not qualify for the MSC tourney, which takes only the top eight teams. The Rams are among the final three, which includes Cumberland (9-19, 5-14), which had won the previous meeting between the clubs 94-92 way back in November.
“The last 10 games we played well. We finally found ourselves when guys jelled, the problem is the season is over for us,” said Bluefield head coach Richard Morgan, whose Rams’ last nine games were decided by 12 points or less. “It is something to build on for next year. It is going to be hard to replace Byron Carpenter, you are going to have to find a way to replace him...”
While Cumberland led 38-35 at the break, the two clubs alternated one-point leads seven times in the opening five minutes of the second half, with Carpenter putting the Rams on top for good at 48-47.
He finished with 21 of his 32 points in the second half, including 14 in the opening 10 minutes to push the Rams up 58-52.
“Being a leader, I learned a lot being at Bluefield,” said Carpenter, when asked his greatest lesson learned at Bluefield. “I figured out I have to channel within myself and learn how to play within defenses and through adversity.”
The Bulldogs pulled within four, at 58-54, but Kearsten Marion, who had 12 points and eight assists, canned a 3 to end any comeback hopes. Eric Swift added 10 points and three assists for Bluefield, while senior Pierre Walters, who played just one semester for the Rams, had six points, six boards and three steals.
“I want to play more because this team has finally got it, whatever it is, they got it,” Morgan said. “I think we were jelling at the right time so you would love to play again, but unfortunately we can’t.
“What we will do now is we will go back and regroup and we will try to make this thing work for next year.”
Carpenter, who was recognized prior to the game with Walters, was ‘discovered’ playing at a community college in Virginia Beach. All Morgan did was make him one NAIA’s best big men.
“He was rough, he was hard on me from day one and I am thankful that he did it,” said Morgan, whose final game was seen by his family. “He stayed on me and I got to my goal which was being an All-American.”
His next quest is to follow the quest of former Bluefield College standout Omar Reed as a professional on the court.
“Definitely, I am still aiming for that goal,” Carpenter said. “I am going to continue to play as long as I can.”
Replacing Carpenter won’t be easy, but Morgan is confident it can happen.
“We will be out on the trails tomorrow getting that done,” Morgan said. “We will come up with somebody because nobody knew about Byron Carpenter either. My staff does a great job of recruiting and going out and finding those guys, the diamonds in the rough and we will find them if they are out there.”
Carpenter will not only leave Bluefield as one of its better performers in program history, but will also graduate in May with a degree in Exercise & Sports Science.
“Byron is a super guy, he is on and off the floor, he is a top-shelf guy,” Morgan said. “He is a guy that does what he is supposed to every day.
“He is going to graduate on time, and that is just a tribute to him and his parents and what they do for him and I am glad they were here to see his last game.”
The Bulldogs, who played without leading scorer Brian Blackmon, was led by Creshaun Holt with 23 points, 11 from Lester Gude and 10 points and eight boards for Jerret Towns.
—Contact Brian Woodson