Oklahoma City —
The game was still knotted at 35-35 and still very much hanging in the balance before Latta scored 10 unanswered points. Epperly started that spurt with a basket over 6-6 defender Dorian Threadgill.
Kade Hayes would follow with a strong drive to the basket that put Latta ahead 39-35.
After a Haworth turnover, Carter Kessinger — standing just inches from the out-of-bounds line along the baseline — drained a 3-pointer. Hayden Grimes missed two free shots on the other end, and Hayes promptly fired in another 3-point dagger that saw the eight-point deficit turn into a 45-35 Latta lead with just 3:21 to play.
“The key is we didn’t panic. We haven’t panicked all year long. Maybe if it had gotten late in the game, we would have. We’ve been here so many times, and they’ve been in these tough situations,” Husband said of the comeback.
“Every playoff game we’ve been in has been this way. A play here and a play there kind of teeters it to our side, and we take advantage of it. I thought that’s what happened here,” he continued. “I’m just very proud of our mental toughness and how we handle adversity.”
Hayes — who finished with a game-high 22 points and was named the tournament MVP — hit two free throws and then made a layup after Latta easily beat Haworth's full-court press to give the Panthers their biggest lead of the game at 49-37 with just 2:12 left.
“Oh, my gosh. He’s always been that guy. He’s always been a big-game player. We rely real heavily on him,” Husband said of the big outing by Hayes. “He’s not afraid of the moment, and he’s not afraid to fail. He’s been that guy for us his entire career, since he was a freshman. He’s always made big shots in any big game we’ve won.”