By LARRY VAUGHT
DANVILLE — Carter Baughman thought he might be able to “come in and contribute a little bit” at Centre College as a freshman.
Instead, the former Mercer County standout has started 25 of 26 games — every game except the Colonels’ Senior Day game — and is averaging almost 20 minutes per game.
“I have been playing some very good minutes for a freshman,” Baughman, the 12th Region Player of the Year his senior season at Mercer, said. “I had no idea I could come in and start and play as much as I have. I thought I could bring something to the team and so far I have.”
Centre is now 22-4 after a win over Rhodes College Sunday in the opening round of the Southern Athletic Association and will play again here Saturday at 4 p.m. in the conference tourney semifinals against Millsaps. The title game will be Sunday at 2 p.m. at Centre.
Baughman is averaging 4.7 points and 1.4 assists per game while shooting 43 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range and 85 percent at the foul line. One other key number for Baughman is that he’s averaging just one turnover per 31 minutes played, a huge plus for a point guard.
“I don’t have the ball in my hands as much as high school but I’ve got to take care of the ball and get it to people to make plays,” Baughman said. “I’ve got to knock down shots when they are there. So far I’ve done a pretty solid job of that. I think my role is also to be a vocal leader even as a freshman.”
The 5-10 Baughman says his toughest adjustment has been learning to play better defense where mistakes turn into opponents’ points.
“If I go under a screen on a shooter, he is going up and hitting a shot. I have to go through screens and talk all the time on defense,” Baughman said. “Defense is one my big struggles but I think I have powered through it and am learning how to be a good defensive player.”
He’s also enjoyed playing for coach Greg Mason even more than he anticipated.
“It has been great to play for someone who has the reputation he has and takes the pride in winning that he does,” the freshman point guard said. “The culture around our team and program is like a family and it starts with the coach. He lays the foundation with the seniors we have this year and now they are laying it with us younger players. It has been a blessing to play for him.”
Baughman says many things he learned from Mercer coach Josh Hamlin translated well to playing for Mason, and that’s made his transition easier.
Academically the transition has not been quite as easy.
“It’s not like high school where I could just coast through,” Baughman said. “I am lucky to have a brother here (in school) and a mom (working) here, and I am close to home to where I can get extra tutoring if I need it. Academically it has been a good experience combined with how much I am enjoying the athletics.”
Baughman was used to playing with talented players. At Mercer his teammate was 2018 Mr. Basketball Trevon Faulkner, a two-year starter now at Northern Kentucky University. He played on an AAU team with Kentucky freshman Dontaie Allen and Western Kentucky freshman Isaiah Cozart.
“Those guys are all tremendous players and all really wanted to win,” Baughman said. “When I got here, I was playing with All-American type players again who just want to win. You learn from playing with great players and I always look up to players like that to see what I can pick up from them.”
Baughman has not been surprised by Faulkner’s success at Northern Kentucky.
“He scored over 3,000 points in high school. His first year at Northern he was a defensive factor which was a big change for him but he adapted and had a great freshman year,” Baughman said. “Then he had to adjust to playing for a new coach this year but is having a great sophomore season. I keep up with him and could not be more happy for him.
“Luckily we both found good fits in college and Mercer County’s tradition and culture helped us both. We were always in the gym, always talking about ways to get better, looking for how we could improve.”
Now the Colonels are doing the same as they continue their quest to win the conference tournament and get the automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.
“We have won a lot of games but we really have not played our best yet,” Baughman said. “Some of our best games came on our worst shooting nights when we had to focus on our defense to win.
“In the postseason, you don’t try to shoot the lights out. You focus on defense and getting everything together. I really think we have the potential to go on a run and and go all the way (to the national championship game) if we play our best.”