When it mattered most in Riverside Military Academy’s basketball game against Cherokee Bluff, Eagles coach Marvin Latham put his trust in his best players. So with the game tied up with less than 20 seconds left to play, Latham found a way to get the ball to sophomore guard Shad Dabney.
Dabney drove through the middle of the paint, left his feet just past the free throw line and connected on a floater with under five seconds showing on the clock. The shot went down as the Riverside Military bench erupted into cheers, giving the Eagles a two-point lead in the road win that would eventually finish 71-67.
“It’s Shad Dabney,” Latham said. “He’s a good player. You put the ball in his hands and tell him to do something with it, and we’ll live with the results. When you’ve got good players, sometimes you have to take the good with the bad. Today was the good, so I appreciate it.”
Dabney finished the game with 15 points, including his late, lead-taking shot, while senior Isaac Teasley led the Eagles (5-1) in scoring with 19 points. Junior Griffin Neville scored 18 to lead Cherokee Bluff (2-3). Senior Connor Boyd added 16 points for the Bears.
“Our whole thing was just come, play physical and keep the game close the whole time, and either me or my boy Isaac Teasley was going to take the last shot,” Dabney said. “So we did what we had to do, kept the game close, and I just hit a big time shot to win the game.”
Early on, it didn’t appear the Eagles would even make it a game, as Cherokee Bluff’s aggressive press defense stymied the visiting team in the opening frame.
After Dabney hit the first basket of the contest less than 10 seconds in, the Bears went on a 17-4 run behind a pair of 3-pointers from Palmer Weaver.
The Eagles, meanwhile, struggled even to get the ball into play at times, and managed only 13 points through the first eight minutes. Still, Latham said he did not make any drastic changes to the team’s offense going into the second quarter.
“We just told our guys to calm down and let’s work through it and play our game,” Latham said. “That’s what they did.”
The Riverside Military players noticeably loosened up, starting the quarter on a 14-5 run and ending it outscoring the Bears 12-4 over the closing minutes before halftime. The burst of scoring turned a seven-point deficit after one quarter into a three-point lead after two periods.
Dabney, who played for Cherokee Bluff coach Benjie Wood at Gainesville last season, said his experience with Wood’s defensive style gave him insight into how to turn things around against the Bears.
“I told my team they were going to bring a lot of pressure,” Dabney said. “We can’t fold. We can’t bend. We’ve got to stay calm, find the guy in the middle, get the ball up the court, set up our offense and do what we do.”
Cherokee Bluff bounced back in the third quarter, picking up six points from Neville and tied the game at 55 entering the final frame. But foul trouble kept Neville off the court for much of the closing quarter, limiting what the Bears could do offensively.
Baskets from Cherokee Bluff’s two seniors — Boyd and Devon Wainer — gave the lead to the home team with about a minute to go, but a steal and subsequent score from Teasley tied things back up, and Dabney’s late floater put the Eagles in control for good.
Boyd threw the ensuing inbound pass out of bounds with four seconds left, and a pair of Dabney free throws moments later put the game completely out of reach.
“I was proud of our guys to fight four quarters,” Latham said. “… I’m just proud of our guys and the team to fight. That’s what we do every day in practice is teach our guys to fight.”