MONTGOMERY – A 2-for-10 shooting effort – including 0-for-4 on 3-pointers – and four turnovers in the first 31-plus minutes didn’t enter Slocomb’s Braydon Whitaker’s subconscious in the final seconds of Saturday night’s game at Garrett Coliseum.
“I was thinking, ‘This ball is about to go in,’” Whitaker said of his thought process right before he unleashed a shot before the buzzer. “There was nothing else going through my mind except I am going to make this shot.”
The junior guard beat the buzzer with a bank shot from 17 feet in front of the Slocomb bench, giving the RedTops a dramatic 52-50 victory over the Pike Road Patriots at the Southeast Regional Tournament.
The dramatic game-winner was caught on several videos that have gone viral on the internet with more than 2,000 views on each version as of Sunday afternoon.
The shot helped Slocomb make history, earning the boys program its first regional tournament win since the format was introduced in 1994. It also lifted Slocomb into the final round of eight for the first time in boys basketball history since the 1928 team reached the state quarterfinals.
“It means a lot to be the first Slocomb team to win a regional game. That is great,” Whitaker said.
With the win, Slocomb (16-11) advanced to the regional finals on Wednesday at 2:15 p.m. against Bullock County (15-12), a 58-46 winner over Opp on Saturday.
Whitaker is developing a knack for buzzer-beaters. Just four days earlier, he hit a last-second shot to beat Pike County in the sub-regional round, 49-47.
“Under pressure situations, that is when I thrive,” Whitaker said. “Two games in a row, I wanted the ball in my hands at the end of the game and came up with the last shot.”
Slocomb head coach Brett Singletary said having the ball in his top scorer’s hands at the end of the game is a priority.
“He is our go-to guy,” Singletary said. “He averages about 21 points a game for us. Against Pike County, we drew up a play and it actually worked out. Tonight, the play didn’t work out as planned, but we want the ball in his hands even when he struggles offensively. I kept telling him the whole game to keep your head in the game and it would go in when it mattered. Luckily, it did.”
Tied at 50 and with the ball following a timeout with 8.4 seconds, Slocomb’s Jaylen Nobles inbounded at halfcourt on the sideline into the backcourt to Cade Price. Price worked to the right. After crossing midcourt Price encountered pressure and passed near the top of the key area to Christian Troupe, who immediately passed to the right to Whitaker.
After receiving the ball, the 5-foot-10 Whitaker put the ball on the floor, split two defenders and fired up his shot, which banked off the backboard and in, setting off a wild Slocomb celebration as teammates chased a running Whitaker down the other end of the court and beyond.
“No, I didn’t call bank,” laughed Whitaker when asked if he planned to put the shot on the backboard.
Singletary said the last-second play didn’t go as planned from the timeout.
“We anticipated them coming out in man. They played man the whole second half,” said Singletary, whose team instead saw more of an extended 1-3-1 look on the last play.
“If they had come out in man, we inbound the ball to Cade and get it down to 5-6 seconds and run a dribble hand-off, essentially, so Cade would have the ability to drive. If the man switched off, Braydon would have come for the hand-off and have the lane,” Singletary said of the initial plan.
Instead, the extended zone forced Price to give it up to Troupe.
“(Against 1-3-1s), we run a play where we have the guards up top and a high post and he (Troupe) came up to the high post like he was supposed to,” Singletary said. “I think with Cade getting pressure, he felt that (pass to Troupe) was his only option. Christian is a senior and he knows who to get it to. It worked out. Sometimes, it is better to be lucky than good.”
Whitaker actually made several other key contributions down the stretch, including hitting two free throws and grabbing a rebound in the game’s 1:15.
He hit two free throws with 1:15 left to pull Slocomb within two after trailing by eight with 2:33 to go. The two free throws made Slocomb 15-of-16 at the foul line in the game.
After Whitaker’s free throws, Pike Road had a traveling violation with 57.7 seconds left.
Tyler Boyett, who had a solid night on the boards with a team co-high seven rebounds, tied it for Slocomb with a putback after a Price missed shot with 30 seconds left. The Patriots then missed a shot with Whitaker seizing the rebound, leading to the timeout with 8.4 seconds left.
Post player Tanner Berry paced Slocomb with 21 points – 16 in the first half. He also had seven rebounds and three blocked shots before fouling out with 1:41 left.
“Tanner has been improving all season,” Singletary said. “It has been fun to watch. He is getting more confident with his jumping ability. Obviously our go-to guys are our guards – Braydon and Cade – and teams are keying on them and that has freed up Tanner in the post and he has taken advantage of that.”
Price had nine points and Nobles had six – on 6-for-6 free-throw shooting – and five rebounds. Boyett had four points and seven rebounds.
Pike Road (13-16) was led by KJ Westry with 16 points and six rebounds and Shaun Holmes with 14 points and five rebounds.
In the opening half, Slocomb played under control and got contributions from all five starters to earn a 29-20 lead at intermission.