LATHROP — Adonis Payton isn’t the first person Nathan McGrath would want to take the last shot of a game, but he was glad the 6-foot-3, 245-pound center took the initiative Friday when Lathrop hosted Kimball.
The score was tied with about 4 seconds left when Payton came down with a defensive rebound off of Rubin Mann’s mid-range miss. Payton went on to lead the fastbreak, crossed midcourt and launched a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
The ball bounced off the iron twice before falling through, and the Spartans celebrated a crazy 68-65 comeback win in which they never led until the final horn sounded. Payton scored all nine of his points in the fourth quarter.
“I could not believe my eyes,” McGrath said. “He got the rebound and took off like a bull. I told him after the game he’ll never finish last in sprints again, because I’ve never seen him run like that. We got lucky.”
It was one the Spartans (5-4 Valley Oak League, 12-10 overall) could not afford to lose as they look to make a push for a playoff spot. Kimball (2-7, 8-15) led by as much as 16, 33-17, in the second quarter before Junior Ballard shrunk the deficit with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer. Ballard ended up with 22 points to lead Lathrop.
“The first half was all Kimball,” McGrath said. “They were way sharper and way better than us. I warned our guys that Kimball, regardless of their record, is scrappy and they play hard, and when they lose they don’t lose by a lot.”
Michael Mills spearheaded the comeback charge, scoring 10 of his 18 points in the third quarter. The Spartans outscored Kimball 23-11 in the period, but the Jaguars had an answer for every run until the end. Lathrop’s Isaias Hunter tied the score at 65-65 with 25 seconds remaining but missed the and-1 layup.
Apnoor Gill hit five 3s in the second half and paced Kimball with 21 points. Mann wound up with 19 points, and V.J. Obiajulu turned in 15.
Kimball 40, Lathrop 35
LATHROP — The defending champion Jaguars (5-3, 11-10) proved they still have a say in the VOL after dispatching a confident Lathrop squad (5-3, 11-7) on Friday.
“Simply put, we didn’t live up to the pressure of being the favorite,” Lathrop coach Dwayne Davis said. “We were waiting around for the explosion to happen and it never did.”
Lathrop has had some strong second-half efforts of late but was held to 12 points over the final two periods. Myani Thornton paced Lathrop with 14 points, and Heaven Hudson had nine. It doesn’t get any easier for the postseason hopefuls, as they travel to Manteca and East Union — the top two teams in the VOL — next Monday and Wednesday, respectively.