Smith's aim is true and his word's good, too. The Stonehill College guard has made good on a vow to help bring the program back to an appearance in the NCAA Division 2's Elite Eight.
BY Glen Farley
Carter Smith's aim is true. His word's good, too. "Carter's development has really taken off," Stonehill College basketball coach Chris Kraus said on Friday. "He came in a freshman wanting to conquer the world and ready to take this team back to the Final Four immediately. As a senior in high school he watched us go to the Final Four (in 2012) and I remember him telling us on the phone and again him sitting in the office and saying, 'We're going back.'
"It took him some time to figure out how to lead a team, how to become a great point guard, leader, mentor and teammate and everything, and that speaks to his competitive nature and him as a player. But putting together all the pieces, there's no better time than his senior year with his best friends right now."
Consider what the 5-foot-10 senior has done as time winds down on his four-year career in the Skyhawks' backcourt:
Smith scored 13 of his 18 points in the second half and overtime, including a big 3-pointer with 4:38 left in regulation and the game-winning layup with five seconds to go in OT, as the Skyhawks came from 18 points behind to defeat Southern New Hampshire University, 75-74, in the teams' NCAA Division 2 Men's Basketball Tournament East Regional semifinal-round game in Philadelphia last Sunday night.
Two nights later, he tossed in a game-high 25 points, including a game-tying layup with 14 seconds remaining in regulation and another layup with 34 seconds to go in overtime that put his team ahead to stay in its 82-76 win over Saint Anselm College in the regional championship game.
"That was pretty fantastic," Kraus said of Smith's performance, which earned him the regional's most outstanding player award. "To see him do that, especially the decisions he made in the paint and around the rim as a smaller guard, we've worked so hard so much on different things he can do inside.
"We call it the 'Nash dribble' (after former NBA great Steve Nash), where you get in that extra little dribble to find guys and then he started reading the paint so well, reading defenses where they had to worry about all the shooters and then things opened up for Carter to come in and score as he did."
While Smith may have seized the spotlight on the court in Philadelphia the past week, he was quick to shy away from it prior to his team's practice at the Merkert Gymnasium on Friday.
"We had guys making big plays all over that week," said Smith. "It wasn't just one-through-five. It wasn't one or two guys. I think that's what has gotten us here, so we're excited."
Yes, the Skyhawks are excited that, rather than packing up their gear earlier this week, on Sunday they'll be putting their bags on a southwest-bound flight.
Now 24-8, the Skyhawks are the fifth seed in the NCAA Division 2 Elite Eight at Dr. Pepper Arena in Frisco, Texas, where they'll play 30-3 and fourth-seeded West Liberty University in a national quarterfinal-round game at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday.
A 2012 graduate of Ohio's Upper Arlington High School (alma mater of golf legend Jack Nicklaus), Smith has averaged 12.0 points in 113 games (89 starts) over his four-year career at Stonehill, including a career-high 16.3 PPG while starting all 32 games of the Skyhawks' games this season. He's shot 46.4 percent from the floor this season, 44.7 percent from beyond the arc and converted 85.7 percent of his free throws, all while chipping in with 4.0 assists and 2.6 rebounds per game.
As the season has progressed, Smith's production has risen as he's averaged 18.7 points and 3.8 assists over the last 11 games.
Kraus, as an assistant on coach David McLaughlin's Skyhawks staff, saw the potential for this kind of development in Smith when he watched him play for his AAU team, the Hidden Gems, in a national tournament in Florida prior to his senior year at Upper Arlington.
"We were told that there was a pretty good player from Ohio, a point guard," Kraus recalled. "I remember it was in Orlando. Went and watched him, Court Five down at the Milk House at the ESPN Center, and just his competitive nature and his overall skill set, (I) was completely drawn to him.
"You could see late in the game he wanted the basketball. He didn't shy down from any moments. He didn't shy down from any players. Just that competitive nature that he has, we knew this was somebody that we wanted. After watching him for about five minutes, I knew that he was a kid that we were going to be following very closely."
This past week, Smith led Kraus' team into the Elite Eight, the Skyhawks' hopes for a national championship still alive.
"That would be pretty special," said Smith, a communications major (psychology minor), who will graduate this spring. "Thinking about it these last couple of days, there's nothing I would want more than for this school and the teammates around me and the coaches – when I think about it personally, they've meant so much to me, this school has meant so much to me – I'd love to be part of that sort of reward.
"This team, we know ourselves well enough that, hanging a banner or not we know who we are. We'll remember what's important about each other and about this team, so in no way do we want it to define us. But, man, that would be something special."
Glen Farley may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GFarley_ent.