CHICKASHA — Wewoka’s Darien Roberts caught a pass from teammate Kobe Stephens and launched the 26-footer toward the basket as time was running out. The ball banked off the backboard, rolled around the rim and came out.
It was only then that the second-ranked Latta Panthers could breathe a sigh of relief and celebrate a tense 38-36 win over the fifth-ranked Tigers Friday night in a Class 2A Area Tournament championship game at Chickasha High School.
Latta improved to 24-5 and punched its ticket to this week’s Class 2A State Tournament, while Wewoka dropped to 19-7. The Tigers would drop a 64-53 decision to unranked Christian Heritage in Saturday night’s consolation championship game that ended their season.
Latta, who has won three of the past five Class 2A state titles, will begin its quest for another championship when the Panthers meet No. Crossings Christian at 2 p.m. Thursday in Yukon.
Tyler King drained a 3-pointer for Wewoka with 13 seconds left that tied the score at 36-36. Randis Gray was fouled and sent to the free-throw line with 5.1 showing.
His first attempt banked off the bottom of the backboard and went in and he swished the next one to put Latta ahead 38-36.
Stephens took the inbounds pass and dribbled past half court before dishing to Roberts, who got a good look at the basket. When the shot came out, Roberts went all the way down to the opposite end of the court in disgust while Latta’s postgame celebration began.
Latta head coach Matt Bryant had to breathe two sighs of relief. He was thankful Gray’s bank shot went in and then thankful Roberts’ did not.
“He made a bank shot, but they count all the same. I was thinking back to the Okemah tournament against Riverside (while watching Wewoka’s last-second shot). That’s how we got beat then — a banked-in three at the buzzer,” Bryant said. “It was close. It rattled in and came out.”
Latta senior Trent Smith confessed he was worried.
“I thought he made that last shot. I thought ‘Oh, my goodness,’” he said.
The entire fourth quarter was a back-and-forth affair that included five lead changes and four ties.
Wewoka’s Tyler King scored after an Avondre Bruner steal with 1:32 left to put the Tigers ahead 33-32.
With less than a minute left, Latta post player Adam Jordan scored a basket inside off a nice pass from Hyatt Hoppe to give Latta a 34-33 advantage. Elijah Factor later scored on a fast break to give Latta a three-point cushion at 36-33 to set up the dramatic finish.
After an ugly first half that saw Latta hit just 3-of-16 field goals (18.8 percent) and commit eight turnovers, Wewoka had built a 17-10 lead.
“At halftime, we talked about not having leadership on the floor. We were all kind of splintered in different directions. I thought in the second half, that wasn’t even in question anymore,” Bryant said. “That’s probably one of the worst halves we’ve played all year, and we were only down seven. That was the good news.”
Jordan scored eight of his 14 points during a 16-6 LHS third-quarter run. Jordan just missed a double-double, finishing with nine rebounds. He didn’t score a single point in the first half.
“Adam Jordan decided he wanted to show up in the third quarter. He knew he needed to start making plays. He knew it was his time, and he stepped up and did it,” Bryant said. “I thought at different times, different ones of them stepped up (in the second half).”
Smith — who has signed to play college basketball at the University of Central Oklahoma — scored eight of Latta’s 10 first-half points. He hit a 3-pointer to start the third quarter and ended up with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
The Panthers led 26-23 heading into the wild fourth period.
Wewoka got 11 points, nine rebounds and two steals from Bruner and eight points off the bench from Tyler King. The Tigers sank 3-of-17 3-point shots (17.7 percent) and were a cool 7-of-16 from the free-throw line (43.8 percent). Latta made 7-of-9 shots from the stripe.
Bryant said making it to the state tournament for the fourth time in the last six seasons is a testament to Latta’s athletes.
“I’ve been around Latta for a long time. One thing that’s been kind of amazing to me is we’ve done it with Latta kids. It’s kids that grew up at Latta and that have been in the program,” Bryant said. “They’ve watched some older guys be successful through hard work ... and every year, it seems like we have guys that buy in. That’s what keeps us going.”