February 13, 2013 12:15:08 PM
Adam Minichino - email@example.com
Curtaves Latham is the epitome of a tweener.
At a solid 6-foot-1, the New Hope High School junior can go inside and bang with bigger bodies. But, like many post players, Latham likes to stray out to the 3-point line and launch a shot or two.
On Tuesday night, Latham made a case for his role to be clearly defined as a 3-point shooter.
Latham hit a 3-pointer from the left corner with 4.3 seconds remaining to help second-seeded New Hope rally from a 17-point third-quarter deficit and beat third-seeded West Point 73-72 in the opening round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A, Region 2 tournament at New Hope High.
"I am a little bit of both," said Latham, whose nickname is Tae. "I can play both positions."
New Hope (15-11) didn't survive until Trey Williams' runner from just inside the 3-point arc on the right wing bounced off the back rim at the buzzer. The victory sends New Hope into the tournament title game against top-seeded Oxford, which edged fourth-seeded Saltillo 62-60, at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
In girls action, top-seeded New Hope (23-4) broke out to a 31-6 lead after one quarter and rolled to a 66-36 victory against fourth-seeded Saltillo. Second-seeded Oxford defeated third-seeded West Point 79-37 to set up a third meeting against New Hope at 6 p.m. Friday. New Hope beat Oxford in both regular-season meetings.
The New Hope and West Point boys each won on their home court during the regular season. The finish was just another in a long line of nail-biters in the region. At Oxford, Latham missed a 3-pointer from the corner at the buzzer that would have given New Hope a victory. On Tuesday night, Latham said he knew he had put himself in just the right position to keep the Trojans' season alive. Point guard Jaylon Bardley (11 points) took the ball following a timeout and moved across midcourt. He had options to try to get the basketball to Chris Mosley (18 points), to create something for himself, or to get the ball inside to Whyatt Foster (22 points). But Bardley's quickness and ability to penetrate drew the defense as he moved toward the basket. Seeing his teammate penetrate, Latham slid to the deep corner to give himself enough shooting space in case Bardley spotted him. He gave himself just enough room to get off a high-arcing raindrop that set off a wild celebration with 4.3 seconds to go.
"I was thinking I was going to be open for a jumper and that no one was going to contest it," Latham said. "If they did (get there to defend the shot), they were going to be late because I had to take the shot."
New Hope coach Drew McBrayer had every bit of confidence Latham was going to hit the shot. But as soon as the ball went through the basket his thoughts switched to the clock, which had ticked under two seconds. The officials came together and ruled the clock be re-set to 4.2 seconds. The move reminded McBrayer of a game against Callaway on Feb. 19, 2010, in the Class 5A North State semifinals at New Hope. In that game, senior Raymond Walters hit a fallaway 3-pointer from the top of the key with 4.7 seconds to play to give New Hope a 55-53 lead. But the officials put 2.2 additional seconds back on the clock, which gave guard Deville Smith (48 points) just enough time to weave into position to hit a shot. His shot missed, but he hit 2 of 3 free throws to send the game into overtime. Callaway survived 78-75 in double overtime.
McBrayer wondered earlier this season if his 2012-13 team would find the toughness the 2009-10 team wore so proudly. For much of Tuesday night's game, New Hope appeared to fight itself defensively as West Point created off the dribble and attacked the rim. When it didn't get into the lane, Davis, Williams, and A.J. Jones (10 points) rained jumpers from the perimeter and DeMarius Calvert (11 points) provided another scoring threat.
On this night, though, New Hope had a final dagger left and a kind back rim on its side.
"We have not run that exact play at the end of a ballgame this year, but we have been in about four situations where we drew up a play or Tae in the corner," McBrayer said. "That play wasn't designed for Tae in the corner. That was the third read off it. ... It is do or die in that situation. You make a shot or you don't. The shot he hit at the end of the third quarter was almost on the same play, so I felt like he had some confidence, so we went back to him and he hit a heck of a one. When he let it go I knew it was good."
For Latham, it was a satisfying way to end a night's work that began so slowly. It was even more special because Latham's shot was a product of his work as an eighth-grader with McBrayer, who encouraged him to alter his line-drive shooting form and to add more arc to his jumper.
"I felt the pressure, but I just had to shoot the ball and see what happens," Latham said. "I started shooting with more arc in the eighth grade and they started to fall so I stuck with it."
Both boys games provided the drama that the girls games lacked. New Hope fell behind 11-0 as Juan Davis (22 points) hit three 3-pointers in the first 2 minutes, 7 seconds. The Green Wave stayed in rhythm in the first half, building a 42-27 halftime lead. They extended that margin to 51-34 on an offensive rebound putback and foul shot by Davis with 4:09 to play in the third quarter.
Latham may have provided a dash of foreshadowing when he hit a 3-pointer from the left corner that appeared to be more of a throw than a shot with 0.1 seconds left to cut West Point's lead to 60-50 with eight minutes to go.
Still, West Point led 70-63 after Diquah Ewing hit 1 of 2 free throws with 3:10 to go. But turnovers and timely shooting, including a layup by Bardley, a 3-pointer by Mosley, and a layup by Foster off a pass from Mosley, helped put New Hope in position to advance.
"Both teams played their hearts out," West Point coach Brad Cox said. "We kind of went cold at the wrong time and missed quite a few free throws (five in the fourth quarter) when it counted and turned the ball over. They never quit. Drew had them playing hard from start to end and they came out on top."
In the girls game, D.J. Sanders and Moesha Calmes had 14 points apiece, while Taylor Baudoin had eight and Antonia Jethroe added seven for the Lady Trojans.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.