LAKE CHARLES — With three minutes left and the see-saw game still hanging in the balance Thursday afternoon, one thing ran through John Curtis junior Devon Benn’s mind.
“I really don’t want to lose this game,” Benn said. “I don’t want to go home.”
So that’s when Benn, a star running back on the football team, chased down a Rayville player going in for what looked like an easy layup and stripped the ball away, preventing an easy basket.
It wasn’t the game-winning play, but it was one of many clutch plays late that helped No. 3 Curtis prevail 72-69 over No. 2 Rayville in a thrilling Class 3A semifinal game at the Boys Top 28 State Tournament at Burton Coliseum.
“This team has the heart of a lion,” Curtis coach Mike Krajcer said.
And Benn displayed the speed of a cheetah on the big play that came with Curtis clinging to 63-62 lead.
“Devon came out of nowhere and knocked it out of bounds,” Krajcer said. “That was a huge play for us. His energy coming off the bench is big.”
Curtis (25-7) advances to play defending state champion University High in the championship game at 6 p.m. Saturday.
While Benn came up with the big defensive plays, Richard Durant and Kai Morgan carried the offensive load.
“They just come up big when they have to come up big,” Krajcer said about his duo.
Durant finished with a game-high 25 points, and Morgan finished with 21.
Trailing 69-66, Durant drained a 3-pointer with 53 seconds left that tied it at 69. He then knocked down three of four free throws in the final minute to help seal the win.
His game-tying 3-pointer came after he rebounded a blocked shot by Rayville’s Jamarion Johnson, who had been a load in the lane all game long.
“I stayed focused,” Durant said. “I saw the ball, I grabbed it and I knew I was going to knock the shot down … I wanted to help my team get in the game and make big shots.”
Durant was 5 of 11 on 3-pointers and also had a team-best seven rebounds.
Morgan finished 4 of 10 from beyond the 3-point arc after getting off to a somewhat slow start in the first half.
“Coach K was in my ear at halftime, and he told me to keep shooting and it will fall eventually,” Morgan said.
Rayville had one more chance late after Durant’s final free throw with 12.1 seconds left, but Durant came up with a steal.
Johnson blocked a shot and threw a pass to halfcourt, and C’Anthony Murphy threw up a desperation shot that hit nothing but net, but it was clearly after the buzzer.
It was that type of a game, going back and forth from start to finish.
Rayville’s largest first-half lead was 14-9 early in the second quarter.
Curtis’ largest lead was 31-26 late in the second quarter after back-to-back 3-pointers by Durant and Morgan.
Curtis led 31-30 at halftime, before the teams went on runs in the third.
Rayville went on a 9-0 run and led 50-41 with 3:04 left in the quarter.
Curtis answered with a 10-0 run, highlighted by a pair of Durant 3-pointers. The second one put Curtis up 51-50 and then teams went toe-to-toe the rest of the way.
“Down the stretch, taking care of the ball was the biggest issue for us,” Rayville coach Damon West said. “Turnovers took us out of the game, and we just came up short.”
Johnson scored 16 points and had 17 rebounds for Rayville (32-3) and was one of four Hornets in double figures.
Benn finished with seven points, and Shawn Anderson chipped in five for Curtis, which will now go for its first title since winning 2A in 2012.
“The team itself, I can call on any of the 12 guys,” Krajcer said. “This is truly a team effort, more than any team I have been a part of.”