By John Bombatch
XENIA — Samari Curtis may be listed as a freshman on the Xenia Buccaneers team roster, but he played like a seasoned veteran in Friday night’s exciting win over Springboro.
Curtis grabbed the rebound off senior teammate Ray James’ missed 3-point attempt, then quickly putback the game-winning jumper with 3.8 seconds left to earn Xenia a 62-60 win, Friday night at The Blue Pit in Xenia High School.
James gave “Freshie” Curtis a big ol’ bear hug after the score.
“Big time players make big time plays, thank you!” James said he told Curtis after the shot.
The win put Xenia in a tie for the Greater Western Ohio Conference’s South Division lead with two games to go.
“I just saw the ball come my way and I just tried to make the most out of it,” Curtis said. “My teammates let me do my game, and I follow the lead of the seniors — Rocky, Garett (Salyers) and Danny Naylor. … We had been preparing too hard all week for us to lose this game.”
Signs of a possible Curtis Coronation were apparent early on in Friday night’s game.
With 6:12 left in the second quarter, Curtis blocked Drew Holweger’s shot but was whistled for a foul on the play.
On Springboro’s first inbounds attempt, Rocky James batted the ball back out of bounds.
On the second Panther inbounds try, it was Curtis who batted the ball back.
On the third try, the frustrated Springboro player had to bounce the ball off a Buccaneer player’s leg to avoid a 5-second violation.
Later, with just over a minute left in the quarter, Curtis unleashed a tomahawk block of a Springboro player’s shot. Rocky James grabbed the rebound, scored and was fouled at the other end to fend off yet another Panthers comeback attempt.
Rocky James and Curtis closed out the final dozen seconds of the quarter with back-to-back scores to give the Bucs a 39-29 lead heading into the final quarter.
Curtis said that series of inbound blocks, and his shot block was emblematic of the kind of defense the Buccaneers were trying to play for the whole game.
“Lock-down defense is what that was. That’s what we’re trying to make as our identity. We’re a lock-down defensive team,” Curtis said.
Rocky James finished with 18 points, Curtis hit for 17 points and Ray James tossed in 16 for Xenia (16-3, 7-1, and now tied with Springboro, atop the Greater Western Ohio Conference’s South Division.)
Holweger, son of Springboro coach Michael Holweger, finished with a game-high 20 points but could only score two in the fourth quarter. Justin Rigg also scored in double figures for Springboro (16-4, 7-1 GWOC South), finishing with 15 points scored.
“I’ll be honest with you, that’s the best defense I’ve seen him play all year for us,” Xenia coach Kent Anderson said of Curtis. “… We’re just happy to get out of here with a win. Samari is that good. It took him a couple weeks in the preseason for him to work himself into our starting lineup, to have that constant work ethic that we emphasize. But once he got the starting job, he’s never relinquished it. I’ll tell you, the kid is just a gamer.”
Curtis was just happy to be able to help his teammates, especially after the team lost on the road to Springboro earlier in the season.
“We thought the first game, we didn’t play our game and we let things get into our heads,” Curtis said. “Today we just played a lot more free, and the shots started going down.”
According to the GWOC website, Xenia is scheduled to play a nonleague contest at 7:30 p.m. tonight, Feb. 6 at New Carlisle Tecumseh. They then will close out the regular season with a 7:30 p.m. home game Tuesday against Miamisburg, and then a tough road battle Feb. 12 in Fairborn’s rowdy Memorial Fieldhouse.
“Miamisburg and Fairborn both played us tough earlier this season, so we can’t let up now,” Anderson said.
John Bombatch can be reached at (937) 372-4444, Ext. 2123.