Matthew Brabham shows a number of emotions on the court.
But the one that should worry opponents most is what he calls his “killer instinct” look.
Southwest saw a little too much of that Brabham on Wednesday in the opening round of the GHSA Region 4-AA tournament.
Brabham scored 20 of his 40 points in the final 11 minutes of the game with the final two points coming on a floater with six seconds left to give Central a 62-60 win and a berth in the state tournament. It was the third straight year Central ended Southwest’s season in the region tournament.
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“I just had this adrenaline rush and went into killer instinct mode,” the junior guard said minutes after the game with a healthy helping of his in-game swagger still intact. “It’s just about having that belief that you aren’t going home. This is the postseason, and my team needed me. So I brought a little killer instinct.”
About midway through the third quarter, Brabham unveiled his trademark scowl, with his brow dropped and jaw clinched. It looked like a cross between getting ready for a fight and trying to hold back a sneeze.
On Wednesday, Brabham was ready for a fight.
The junior took over the game with his Chargers trailing by six points in the third quarter. Brabham walked the ball down and calmly sank a 24-foot 3-pointer to start his own run. He then converted a layup that looked impossible from the angle he shot the ball. He followed that up by getting into the lane on the next possession and drawing a foul.
“You know he is going to hurt you because he is such a great player,” Southwest head coach Grady Caldwell said. “But you don’t want him stepping into 3s uncontested. He’s comfortable enough to shoot from anywhere on the floor.”
In just less than two minutes, Central bounced back from a six-point deficit to take a two-point lead.
The run galvanized the Chargers, who were playing unbalanced up until that point. But despite two more 22-foot-plus 3-pointers from Brabham in the first two minutes of the fourth quarter, the Patriots never backed away.
The Patriots went on a 9-4 run during the next three minutes to rebound from a six-point deficit. They took the lead, their first and only lead of the fourth quarter, with two free throws by Terrance Chatman with 1:16 to play in the game.
But Brabham stepped up again, driving to the basket seconds after Chatman’s free throws gave Southwest a 59-58 lead. He calmly made both with a 1:06 to play.
Chatman again went to the line on the Patriots’ next possession, but he made just 1-of-2 to tie the game at 60-60 with 42 seconds to play.
Brabham dribbled down the clock near midcourt on the Chargers’ final possession, waiting until just under 10 seconds to attack the basket and hit the game winner.
“I think my teammates look up to me and expect me to make those plays,” Brabham said. “I’ve made a lot of these game winners, and that’s why the coaches want me to get the ball in end-of-game situations.”
The Chargers must wait a day to find out who they play in the semifinals after a tornado hit the area and caused the Northeast-Howard game to be postponed until 6:30 p.m. today.