If it’s overtime, it’s the right time for South Miami.
Of the 32 teams — four in each of the eight classes — that qualified for the boys’ basketball state tournament in Lakeland this week, only the Cobras are on a run of three straight overtime wins.
Just one more point could have wrecked South Miami’s season, but the Cobras have been saved by the backcourt duo of Ezacaras “Zack” Dawson III and Miguel Arnold.
“I didn’t get nervous,” Arnold, a 5-10 junior from Puerto Rico, said of the harrowing past two weeks. “But I was stressed.”
Dawson, a 6-3 junior from Miami, said the close wins have motivated him to get back in the gym and improve.
“It’s been a dogfight,” Dawson said. “But I don’t want to leave it up to chance at state.”
Cobras coach Robert Doctor shares that view. He would love an easier ride on Friday, when South Miami (21-8) plays Sarasota Riverview (28-2) in a Class 8A semifinal at 2 p.m.
Riverview won its three regional playoff games by a combined 37 points.
Meanwhile, South Miami played a total of 12 extra minutes in beating Coral Reef, Coral Gables and Flanagan.
“We are 5-0 in overtime this season,” Doctor said. “Our kids are used to playing in tight games.”
Dawson had the winning free throw with 4.4 seconds left against Coral Gables and did the same against Flanagan, this time with 5.5 seconds left.
“He’s the best teammate I’ve ever played with,” Arnold said.
Arnold has also contributed in the clutch, coming through with a team-high 24 points in the win over Gables. Against Flanagan, South Miami trailed 72-69 before Arnold hit a three-pointer with 25 seconds left in what became a 74-72 win.
“When he shot it, I knew it was going in,” Dawson said. “Miguel is a great player. I love playing with him. He keeps the pressure off when people try to double team me.”
Dawson is averaging 22.9 points, Arnold is averaging 13.1 points, and both players share the team lead in assists with 4.1.
They both arrived at South Miami as transfers. Arnold played his sophomore year at Coral Park. Dawson, whose brother Deric Hill was a starting point guard at FIU and Barry University, played his freshman season at Miami High but left when there was a coaching change.
Now they have joined forces, along with 6-8 senior Keith Stewart, the team’s top big man who is averaging 8.7 points, 12.2 rebounds and 5.0 blocks. Stewart, who transferred in from Booker T. Washington before this season, hit a free throw to send the Coral Reef game to overtime.
Doctor has led the Cobras to nine district titles in his 11 years at the school. This is also his third trip to state in the past four years.
But he has yet to win the ultimate prize, and now he has to face a Riverview team that boasts a pair of 20-point scorers on the wings – 6-4 junior Brion Whitley and 6-5 junior A.J. Caldwell. Riverview is making its first trip to state since 1993. The Rams blew a 17-point lead in the regional finals and trailed by seven points before rallying to defeat Vero Beach 74-69.
“They’re a good team,” Doctor said. “We’re going to have to come out and play defense.”