SOUTH BOSTON — As a member of the media came into the visiting locker room on Wednesday night at Halifax County High School looking for people to interview, Handley boys’ basketball assistant coach Donald Finley raved about one player in particular.
“You’ve got to talk to Ke’Mani [Curry],” Finley said. “He played a great game.”
The senior guard’s play certainly spoke loudly in the 52-49 overtime win over Halifax County in the Class 4 state semifinals.
With 12 points, Curry more than doubled his scoring average from his previous nine games (5.9 per game). And Curry was particularly active as one of the two players on the top line of the zone defense that the Judges used throughout most of Wednesday’s game, which saw Halifax County shoot 19 of 60 (31.6 percent) overall and 4 of 18 (22.2 percent) from 3-point range.
Offensively, Curry had a big 3-pointer to get the Judges going in the second quarter, and his rebound and free throws with 12 seconds left in regulation nearly turned out to be the deciding factor. At the very least, Curry gave the Judges the cushion they needed to survive Keshawn Wells’ midcourt buzzer-beating 3-pointer that sent the game to overtime.
“I’m so proud of him,” Handley head coach Zach Harrell said of Curry, whose height is 6 feet, 1 inch this year after being listed at 5-11 as a junior and 5-9 as a sophomore. “He’s a late bloomer [with his body growth], and he’s become everything we’ve tried to mold him into these past couple of years. A knockdown shooter. A leader. Poised. Able to handle the flow of the game. He’s our smartest player.”
Curry knocked down two 3-pointers in the first 13 minutes of the game. The second one was a big one.
Halifax County went on an 8-0 run bridging the first and second quarters, with the last six of those points coming as result of Handley turnovers. Jaden Waller had a steal and slam to electrify the Halifax parents and make it 17-11 with 6:54 left in the second quarter, which was the Comets’ largest lead of the game.
But Curry settled things down with a 3-pointer with 5:26 left to end the run and make it 17-14. That kickstarted a 12-0 Judges run that led to a 23-19 lead at halftime.
“I felt really good [about my shooting],” said Curry, who was the only Judge besides Demitri Gardner (26 points) to score more than six points on Wednesday. “They were clogging the paint and giving me opportunities, and the shots were falling.”
In the fourth quarter, Curry grabbed a long rebound of a missed 3-pointer when Halifax was down 45-42, and the Comets fouled him to send him to the line. In a one-and-one situation, Curry — who was just 3 of 7 from the line for the entire season — cooly knocked down both free throws to make it 47-42.
“Meech [Gardner] was actually talking to me at the free throw line and giving me confidence, telling me I could knock them down,” Curry said. “I got to the line and sank my two free throws.”
In overtime, Curry continued his strong defense and added a couple more rebounds as the Judges outscored Halifax 5-2 in the extra session.
Curry said the some of the words that Harrell consistently preaches to the team helped the Judges close things out after Halifax’s emotional 3-pointer.
“He always tells us to move on to the next play,” Curry said. “Don’t worry about the past, go in the future. When they hit that 3, I knew we just couldn’t give it away again. We had to close it out.”
Curry and the Judges need to close out one more opponent to win the first state title in the history of their boys’ basketball program. Handley (11-0) will host Smithfield (9-0) at 5 p.m. on Saturday at the Judges’ Maddex-Omps Gymnasium.
Ke’Mani’s older brother Kevin, now a wide receiver at James Madison University, and half brother Tyson Long were key players on the 2018 Handley team that lost to Lake Taylor in double overtime in the Class 4 state championship game at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.
“It’s great to get an opportunity to do something that nobody else has done in Handley history,” Curry said. “We’re just going to try and play our ball and win the game.”