Latham’s big night keeps Marion perfect in league play
By Chuck Livingston Sports Editor
LITTLE ROCK — Quite literally, Marion senior A.J. Latham started scoring before his team’s game ever officially began and didn’t stop until the game’s final horn had buzzed. Latham’s night began at the free throw line shooting a pair of charities thanks to a technical foul on Little Rock Central’s Gregory Johnson prior to the tip-off. He split the shots. When the dust cleared, and his Marion Patriots claiming a 71-69 win against a scrappy group of Tigers, Latham had hit for 31 points, the most by a Marion player in over two years. Marion (9-6 overall, 4-0 7A/6A-East) would need all of Latham’s offensive outburst to survive on the road. The Pats hit the ground running in the Capital City, leading 24-11 after the first quarter, only to trail by a bucket at 51-49 entering the fourth quarter. “This was a good measuring stick for us,” said 11th-year Marion head coach Irving Clay. “We had a nice, big lead but then we see some slippage. We got out of character, so to speak. We stopped doing the things that we did to get that lead in the first place.” The thing that got Marion to that big lead was the dynamic duo of Latham and junior forward Shaun Doss. Latham hit for 12 of his game-high total in the first quarter, including a buzzer-beating three-point basket from behind the timeline to make Marion’s lead 13 points after eight minutes. Doss added six of his own in that frame, including a highlight-reel quality dunk on the possession prior to Latham’s heave that worked the partisan Little Rock Central crowd into a frenzy. However, a fresh unit entered in the game’s second quarter and the Tigers took full advantage. Little Rock Central knocked down four of their nine three-point attempts in the game’s second stanza, coming all the way back to tie the game at 27-27 before the Pats scored three of the final four points of the half to lead 30-28 at the break. “We subbed some guys and we made some ill-advised passes, took some ill-advised shots and just didn’t defend well,” explained Clay. “We know that everybody is gonna make a run, but I didn’t panic and those guys actually put together a good three minutes at the end.” After the half, Marion’s starters were re-inserted, but Little Rock Central continued to mash the gas pedal. The Tigers would close the quarter on a 13-4 run to nab a 51-49 lead after the third quarter. The fourth quarter would feature one tie and four lead changes. Perhaps the deciding sequence in the game came when Marion senior Marlon Warren Jr. re-entered the game with a hair more than six minutes remaining in regulation. On Warren’s first offensive possession following his re-entry, the Hughes product hit a three-pointer in front of his team’s bench to put Marion in front for good at 56-55 before making a runner on the next trip for a 58-55 advantage. Warren’s instant offense and Latham’s midrange prowess would spark the Pats on a 13-4 run and a 67-59 lead with 48.7 seconds left in regulation. Latham would hit five of eight free throws in that final span to carry the Pats home from the stripe. “My dad and I had a nice, long talk before the game and he told me that I needed to hit for 30 or 40 points tonight to get my name out there so I wanted to stay aggressive,” said Latham, a key three-year player for Marion. “Coach Clay tells me before every game that I need to go out there and shoot it and they need me to shoot it, and I just wanted to be there for my team.” Warren would add 13 points to the cause for Marion while Doss would finish with 12. Little Rock Central got their own big night from Jacob Platt, who would hit for 23, 18 from Cameron Johnson (all of which came in the second half) and seven from Henry Dudley. Marion will return home on Friday night when they host Jonesboro in a game between the 7A/6A-East’s last two unbeaten teams. The winner of that contest will also take the inside track for the No. 1 seed from the 6A-East, and the first-round bye that accompanies it in this season’s state tournament. The girls varsity game will tip at approximately 6 p.m., followed by the boys.