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December 21, 2013

Turnovers create victory for Latta Panthers

Stonewall — The Latta Panthers used a tenacious defense to keep forcing turnover after turnover against Stonewall Friday night inside the Murphy-Roberts Gymnasium.

And most of those turnovers led to easy transition buckets.

After Carter Kessinger hit the first of his four 3-pointers on the night with just over one minute left in the first quarter, the Class 2A second-ranked Panthers had built a staggering 24-0 lead. Latta would keep the pedal to the metal and speed past Stonewall 75-30.

The Panthers — the defending Class 2A state champs — improved to 7-0 entering the holiday break while Stonewall fell to 7-6.

Brady Johnson scored eight points during Latta’s big game-opening surge, but six different Panthers contributed to the impressive opening salvo. Latta was 8-of-14 from the field during the first quarter and forced 11 Stonewall turnovers during the first seven minutes of the game.

As good as Johnson’s first quarter was, he still had reason for a bit of disappointment. He had back-to-back steals that he hoped would turn into dunks. But on the first attempt, Johnson didn’t get a good jump and had to lay the ball in the basket. He was fouled on the second attempt — but nearly made it anyway — and that attempt turned into a single free throw.

He was a good sport about it, though.

“You and everyone else has given me a hard time,” Johnson said. “It was like during the (All-Star Classic) dunk contest my sophomore year.”

Johnson, who finished a perfect 4-for-4 from the field, would finish with 13 points to lead a balanced Latta offense.

Dakota Morgan scored the first two points for Stonewall with 49 seconds left in the first quarter and Rowdy Rodriguez drained a 3-pointer seconds later that trimmed the Latta advantage to 24-5 after the first quarter.

A free throw by Chase Finley made it 28-8 with 5:47 left in the second quarter but Latta would finish the first half on a 17-3 surge and rolled to a 45-11 halftime lead.

Tanner Dees scored the first five points of the third quarter on a 3-pointer and a mid-range jumper, but Latta responded with 11 straight points to make it 56-16.

The Panthers would lead by as many as 48 in the fourth quarter.

Latta, which saw 12 players reach the scoring column, got 12 points from Treston Tully and another dozen by Kessinger off the bench. Kade Hayes just missed double digits with nine points, while Derek Epperly sored eight points.

Rodriguez and Gage Burns hit a pair of 3-pointers each and led Stonewall with six points apiece. Stonewall made 7-of-14 from long range, compared to just three of 20 shots from two-point territory.

Latta hit a blistering 10-of-20 triples.

Ryan Stockton had four points and seven rebounds off the pine for Latta.

Stonewall would finish with 24 turnovers compared to just four for the Panthers, who had 12 steals..

Latta returns to action Jan. 9-11 at the Kingston Tournament while Stonewall is back in action Jan. 7, hosting Wanette.

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