Because of the way the state tournament is set up in Indiana, Fishers Hamilton Southeastern and Indianapolis North Central met in the first round of the tournament despite being ranked No. 1 and No. 3 respectively. That meant that no less than four future Big Ten players were on display, though one ended up stealing the show.
Capacity at Noblesville High School’s gym is listed at 4,200, but school officials estimate that 4,400 fans found their way into the gym on Tuesday evening to watch one of the most highly anticipated games of the year. In fact there were even scalpers outside the gym selling tickets to people who didn’t want to wait in long lines.
North Central, led by Purdue bound Ronnie Johnson and Iowa signee Patrick Ingram matched up with Hamilton Southeastern who features Michigan State pledge Gary Harris as well as Michigan verbal commitment Zak Irvin.
With so much talent on the floor it is no surprise that the atmosphere was charged, but at the beginning of the game one of the more under the radar players stepped up, Jacobby Bledose.
Bledsoe, who is deciding between offers from Western Kentucky and Northern Illinois, scored 20 points in the first half and got Hamilton Southeastern out to a lead midway through the second quarter.
“It just felt good,” said Bledose of his 8-9 performance in the first half. “All of the work I put in during workouts and conditioning, it just felt good that all the hard work paid off in the end.”
Still behind the play of Johnson, Ingram, and Big Ten football recruit Darius Latham, North Central rallied and ended up taking a five point lead into the break. One of the reasons for that was North Central’s ability to shut down Harris.
Ingram, who is known as one of the best defenders in the Midwest, did a good job of limiting Harris’ touches. Also Johnson spent some time on Harris, and he was held to four points on only 2-5 shooting.
“They caught me off guard,” said Harris of the first half struggles. “They were guarding me and wouldn’t let me get comfortable. It slowed me down.”
The second half would be a different story in terms of what Harris did, but Johnson, Ingram, and Latham kept up the stellar play for North Central.
Johnson, who finished with 16 points and nine assists, kept on finding Latham down low where the 6-foot-5 and 280 pounder simply outmuscled the Hamilton Southeastern frontline. Ingram as usual was playing with energy and effort and his rebounding on the offensive end set the tone.
However while those three really picked up their game, it was Harris who came alive in a big way. After only scoring four in the first half, Harris had nine in third quarter, and exploded in the fourth quarter.
Six years earlier in the same gym, then North Central star, and current New Orleans Hornet, Eric Gordon exploded for 22 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Panthers to a sectional title win over Carmel, and Harris matched it on this day.
Having controlled the entire fourth quarter, Harris put his team on his back, got to the foul line, hit threes, and attacked the rim. However with under 30 seconds to play his team was trailing by four.
That is when Harris hit a three, and after North Central split a pair of free throws he hit two free throws of his own to tie up the game. Then Harris forced Ingram into a turnover with 4.6 seconds left setting the stage for one final shot.
“Down the stretch Gary said he wanted the ball so we got him the ball,” said Hamilton Southeastern coach Brian Satterfield. “We called timeout and we got him the ball and he is a champion and came through with a big shot.”
A big shot would be accurate. Harris caught the ball just beyond half court, took two dribbles, had to do a reverse spin, and then from roughly 38 feet launched a shot. The ball then banked off the glass and went in sending the gym into pandemonium.
“It felt great to get the win,” said Harris of his emotions after the shot went in. “Ronnie Johnson and Patrick Ingram are great guys and we have battled them, and it could have gone any way tonight. Just one of us had to go home tonight.”
About losing in that way Johnson said, “It is the worst feeling ever as a basketball player. To lead the whole game and lose like that at the buzzer, it is the worst.”
Paced by his 22 fourth quarter points Harris finished with 35 overall and added nine rebounds. Also Hamilton Southeastern got 21 from Bledsoe and 11 from Irvin. Ingram led North Central with 22 points and also had six boards. Latham added in 18 points and 11 rebounds.