Marvin Latham has received almost a half century worth of birthday gifts.
There have been some memorable presents through the years, but none quite like the one the Dublin head coach received on his 45th birthday Saturday.
The top-ranked Irish (31-1) gave their coach a GHSA Class AA state championship with a resounding 79-64 win over Blessed Trinity at the Coliseum, capping a memorable first year for Latham in which his team reached the lofty expectations of an entire community. It was the Irish’s second state championship in four years.
“You could say this is the best gift ever,” Latham said.
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Chris Smith led four Irish players scoring in double figures with 26 points. Sherrard Brantley scored 17 points, Tawaski King added 16 and Rashard Smith scored 12 points and handed out 11 assists.
The championship comes a little more than a year after the Irish lost to eventual state champion Wesleyan in the state semifinals. Every key player off that team returned this season, and the Irish were ranked No. 1 from the start of the season.
“There is no doubt that we embraced the expectations from day one,” Latham said. “We wanted the pressure of the community. We knew that pressure would make us work harder.”
Dublin didn’t appear to have any pressure at the start of the championship game.
The Irish came out at the start of the game dictating the pace, and never allowed Blessed Trinity to slow them down.
Chris Smith’s hot hand and Rashard Smith’s court vision pushed the Irish to a double-digit lead in the first half. Chris Smith went 5-of-8 from the field in the first half, shooting 3-of-4 on the 3-pointers as the Irish led by as many as 17 points in the second quarter.
“Chris Smith came out on fire,” Latham said. “It was probably the best game of his life.”
Rashard Smith was largely responsible for all of those 3-pointers with his dribble penetration and his ability to pass it out to the open shooter. The senior point guard handed out five assists in the second quarter alone and had eight of his 11 assists in the first half.
“We told (Rashard Smith) not to settle for jumpers,” Latham said. “We wanted him to get to the rack and create those open shoots for his teammates. There aren’t many guys in the state that can do that as well as him.”
The Irish pushed a six-point lead to 17 with a 11 point run at the end of the second quarter that included two 3-pointers by Brantley and one by Chris Smith.
“I’ve some good shooting nights, but this one came in the state championship game, so it’s the biggest I’ve had,” Brantley said.
Dublin shot 14-of-24 from the field and 6-of-9 from the 3-point line in the first half.
The Irish defense, meanwhile, concentrated on defending the Titans’ leading scorers Ryan LeGates and Arris Brundidge.
LeGates finished with 23 points and made four 3-pointers. But the Irish made him work for every shot, only really allowing him to pull up following a catch-and-shoot off a screen. Brundidge averages 18 points per game, but the senior was held to four points Saturday.
“We did a good job of defending (LeGates) and never giving him a clean look,” Latham said. “He’s a great shooter, but we would let him shoot those 25 footers. He made some, and we could live with those. We didn’t want to give him too much.”
The Titans never got closer than 10 points after Dublin’s second-quarter run. They pulled to within 10 on a pair of free throws by Brundidge with 4:57 to play in the game. But the Irish responded with a 9-0 run that included six points from King to push the lead back out to 19.
“(Blessed Trinity) fought back, but we weren’t going to give in,” said Rashard Smith, who claimed his third state championship to go with the 2006 basketball title and the 2006 football championship. “We’ve worked too hard to not finish it off.”
DUBLIN 79, BLESSED TRINITY 64
Blessed Trinity 9 12 16 27—64
Dublin 16 20 17 26—79
Blessed Trinity: Ryan LeGates 23, Sean Rouse 9, Arris Brundidge 4, Brendan Corcoran 9, Jake Skole 14, Kevin Schultz 2, Sean Monahan 3.
Dublin: Chris Smith 26, Rashard Smith 12, Ramahd Thomas 6, Tawaski King 16, Sherrard Brantley 17, Willie Howard 2.
3-pointers: Blessed Trinity 8 (Monahan, LeGates 4, Corcoran 3); Dublin 7 (Chris Smith 4, Brantley 3)
Records: Blessed Trinity 26-7, Dublin 31-1.