Every basketball season, Ed Cheltenham runs into the same problem.
The eighth-year Spring Mountain coach has his patience put to the test as a new crop of kids learn the fundamentals of the game.
“Especially for the group we have, who don’t understand organized basketball,” Cheltenham said of his squad, which is comprised of juvenile delinquents on the road to reform. “We try to make them a team. That’s been the biggest obstacle for the whole season is to try to get them to gel together.”
Friday at Saville Middle School, the Eagles held like glue when things got tough.
Roemello Tatum registered 19 points and went 6-for-8 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter to help the Eagles hold off Round Mountain 64-60 in a key Division IV Southern League matchup.
“Tatum is so quick,” Cheltenham said. “Nobody can guard him if he wants to go to the hole. But he’s a very unselfish young man. He’s afraid that if he shoots too much, his teammates are going to get mad at him. I tell him he has the green light.”
At the foul line, Tatum didn’t hesitate.
The junior scored all six of his fourth-quarter points on free throws inside the final two minutes.
The Knights (18-1, 3-1), who won each of their previous games by an average of 22.4 points, stormed back from a 20-point, third-quarter deficit to cut Spring Mountain’s lead to 58-56 with 1:15 remaining. Round Mountain benefited from two critical turnovers by the Eagles to complete an 8-0 run.
“We had our mental breakdowns like in the end, throwing the ball inbounds and not seeing the defense,” Cheltenham said. “But the whole time, I never feared we were going to lose the game.”
With the momentum shifting, Tatum sank 1 of 2 free throws with 4.6 seconds left to seal the victory.
“I like the pressure,” Tatum said. “In situations like that, I just can’t let my team down.”
The Eagles (12-6, 2-0) shot 14-for-23 in the first quarter to build a 31-14 lead. Spring Mountain’s pressure defense forced 28 total turnovers, and the Knights trailed 38-26 at the break.
“Our thought process coming into this game was to just play hard,” Tatum said. “That first quarter we just passed the ball around a lot and played team ball.”
Tatum’s 3-pointer from the corner gave the Eagles their largest lead at 54-34. From there, Round Mountain went on a 10-0 run to trim the deficit to 54-44.
Christopher Munro scored 14 points for Spring Mountain, which got nine points apiece from Kenyon McNair and Terrence Ware.
A key part of the Eagles’ game plan was to contain Round Mountain’s leading scorer Sergio Chavez, who came in averaging 22.4 points per game. The senior forward had 12 points and nine rebounds.
Mitchell Doheny led the Knights by scoring 18 of his game-high 28 points in the second half. The senior guard also grabbed 10 rebounds.