Sitting next to a microwave in the coaches office at 21st Century, Melvon Cunningham was still the object in the room that heats up the fastest.

"If I shoot it, I think it's going in," Cunningham said.

It did, seven times in a row, in the Class A Kouts Sectional semifinal, when the slender 6-foot-1 guard dropped a long string of 3s on Morgan Township before finally missing a shot.

"He was unconscious," Cougars coach Rodney Williams said. "It was like, if he makes the first, we'll let him stay in a little longer. Then he makes the second, OK, the third, OK, we'll give him a couple more shots. I've never seen a shooting display like that."

That's saying a lot considering noted sharpshooter Eugene German (Northern Illinois) used to singe the nets for 21.

"(The hoop) feels really big," Cunningham said of the shooting display. "Playing in front of a huge crowd hyped me. That helped a lot."

The performance was the high point of a 21st Century career that started modestly last season, when Cunningham appeared in just seven games and made just one shot, yes, a three.

"We didn't know what he could do, where he fit in," Williams said. "We knew he could shoot, but we didn't know how else he could help us."

Cunningham attended Indianapolis Manual for two years, starting as a sophomore. He'd just begun his junior year there when his mom moved to Gary, enrolling at 21 after also considering Calumet.

"It was tough," he said. "I grew up around the (Manual) team. They welcomed me (here). It took a little while. The team here was small, my team in Indy was real big. I had to adjust to the speed of the game. They were guard-heavy last year. They knew I could play. They just already had their team."

Last summer, Cunningham began to find his stride with the Cougars and was firmly in the playing rotation as the season began.

"It's a lot easier this year," he said. "I'm real comfortable now. It's turned out better. I wish I was starting, but coming off the bench is best for us. We've got scorers in the game, so when they come off the court, another scorer's going on, so it all works out."

His first big splash came Dec. 5, when Cunningham popped five treys in a win over Griffith. He hit six at Lebanon, then had a four-game stretch in which he nailed 18 triples, highlighted by six on Jan. 25 against Indianapolis HomeSchool. He totaled 13 3s in the three sectional games.

"He's really come on," Williams said. "He gives us the outside shooting we really, really needed. We knew he could do it. There were times during the season when he showed signs, he just didn't do it consistently. He's a little more comfortable with us now. He's the quietest guy on the team, but he jokes and kids now. We're glad he landed here."

Williams concedes some of the inconsistency may have been a case of not giving Cunningham enough minutes to get into a shooter's rhythm.

"I regret that," he said. "I need to let him stay out there for a while, shoot until he misses a few."

Even so, Cunningham is connecting a 37.3 percent clip, a crucial statistic on a team where its top scorers, DeAndre Gholston and Johnell Davis, do most of their damage at the rim.

"No one else really shoots 3s a lot," Cunningham said. "When defenses collapse on them, then they can pass it back out."

Cunningham's shooting is radically tilted toward the arc. Of his 60 baskets, 46 are 3s. He has shot four free throws.

If he's taking a two, it's a layup," Williams said.

Like any good shooter, Cunningham is comfortable pulling from anywhere on the court, though he considers the corner his money spot.

"I like the whole circle," he said.

His basketball future is wide open, but a 21 run with more big games could enhance Cunningham's chance to play in college.

"I should, the way I'm shooting," he said.

Cunningham got to see his Manual friends when the Cougars played Howe at his old school two weeks ago. With the way things have turned out in Gary, he doesn't look back with any second thoughts.

"I've never been to a (state) final four or even won a sectional," he said. "It's pretty special."