Bowman Academy’s Eagles proved to be as good as advertised — better in fact — at Saturday afternoon’s Class 2A boys state high school basketball championship game in Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
And still that was barely enough to hold off Linton.
Coach Joey Hart’s never-say-die Miners came from 15 points behind in the second quarter and 16 points behind early in the third period to cut the Eagles’ lead to five points on four occasions, before a late flurry allowed the Eagles to escape with an 86-73 win and their second state championship.
“We were probably just a possession or two away [from winning],” Hart said afterward, and the second-half momentum swing made a good case for that statement.
Coach Marvin Rea of Bowman Academy had said earlier in the week that his team would ride the hot hand among his four double-figure scorers — Davon Dillard, Arthur Haggard III, Justin King and Antonio Pipkin — and the Eagles always found one when they needed to, however.
Dillard, a 6-foot-4 sophomore being recruited by some of the biggest college programs in the country, took care of the first half, scoring 15 of his eventual 24 points on an assortment of spinning jump shots and one frightening two-hand dunk.
When the Miners got within five at the start of the fourth quarter it was the 6-7 King, scoring his team’s next seven points including a 3-pointer. And when Linton shook off that flurry to get within five points again it was Pipkin’s turn, the Eagles’ only starting senior scoring 10 of the points in the 12-2 run that finally put the game away — although after Bowman had gone to a rarely used delay game to try to slow Linton’s momentum.
“[The Eagles] made their free throws … and they made some unbelievable shots on the perimeter we had not seen on film,” Hart said. “It took a very good team to beat us.”
Linton’s tendency to turn the ball over, and Bowman’s ability to force turnovers, were no secrets going into the game, and by halftime the Miners had lost the ball 14 times. Dillard had a steal that set up the game’s first basket, then scored five points in a row as the Eagles built their lead to 9-2.
“[The Eagles] were so fast,” Dess Fougerousse said after the game. “They were baiting us [to throw long, interceptable passes] … and when they were up on us, it was like they were suffocating you.”
“They were long” Keith Fulk added, “and fast.”
If the Miners broke the first wave of pressure, however, they usually found an easy score at the other end. Fougerousse hit a 3-pointer, Bryant Jackson got free for a layup and Austin Karazsia scored his team’s last eight points of the quarter as Linton crept back within 18-15.
“I feel like we survived a lot of the turnovers,” Hart said later, while admitting that the Gary team’s pressure was not something the Miners could get used to in practice.
“We played against a very good team today,” the Linton coach noted, “but we got used to [the pressure], and we got better against it as we went along.”
Dillard closed out the first quarter by rising above the crowd to grab an offensive rebound and throw it down with awe-inspiring force, and King opened the second quarter with a basket for a seven-point lead. Linton fought back within 22-18, then 25-22, and it was still 29-24 after Fulk hit a short jumper. Then the Miners’ real problem showed up.
Reserve guard Anthony Cole scored off an offensive rebound to put the Eagles ahead 31-24. After a Karazsia free throw, DeShawn Franklin — another reserve guard — also converted a rebound basket. Then Haggard scored with a rebound on the third shot of a Bowman possession. Linton’s deficit was 10 at 35-25, and it became 15 at 44-29 late in the half when Linden Jackson — also coming off the bench — got a three-point play after an offensive rebound.
“Second shots really hurt us in the first half,” Hart said to open the postgame press conference.
Linton was behind 50-34 early in the third quarter when the game began to change.
A basket by Karazsia, a free throw by Fougerousse and another basket by Karazsia cut the lead to 11. Trailing 56-43, the Miners got a 3-pointer and then a driving basket by Fougerousse and had the margin inside 10 points for the first time in more than a quarter. After two Bowman free throws, Jackson Bohnert hit a layup, then stole the ball from Dillard to set up a basket by Fougerousse that cut the lead to 58-52.
“He’s strong and athletic,” Bohnert said after keeping Dillard pretty much in check the second half. “You have to stay low [while guarding him] and have the mindset that nobody can take you.”
Not only was Dillard slowed, but so were a lot of his teammates. “Shots are a lot easier to make when you’re up 10, not so easy in a one- or two-possession game,” Hart noted later.
Haggard got the last basket of the third quarter, but Bryant Jackson drained a 3-pointer to open the fourth period and bring Linton within 60-55. King scored inside, but was matched by Karazsia. King scored inside again, but Karazsia fed Bohnert for a layup. Then King hit a 3-pointer, and after the Miners missed the front end of a one-and-one the Eagles got a three-point play from Dillard to go back up 70-59.
The Miners weren’t finished yet. Fougerousse scored, then Bryant Jackson stole the ball to set up a driving dunk by Karazsia. Bohnert hit two free throws — after drawing King’s fourth foul — and Linton was back within 70-65 at the fourth-quarter media timeout. Then came the Pipkin-led spurt to put the game away, however.
Dillard’s points were complemented by 16 each from King and Pipkin and 15 from Haggard for the Eagles. Karazsia had game-high totals of 29 points and 10 rebounds and Fougerousse scored 25 for the Miners, who shot 80 percent in the second half.
Karazsia, who also won the Class A Trester Award for mental attitude, took little credit for his numbers afterward. “We just took what they gave us,” he said. “These guys [gesturing toward his teammates on the dais] did an amazing job getting [the ball] inside.”
Hart praised his players in the press conference afterward, saying, “I’m really hard to play for [as several Miners nodded in agreement]; during the season these guys will tell you I don’t like them much. But this is a special group of kids, and we can be friends now — well, everybody except Bryant [Jackson, the only underclassman in the group who will be back for another season].
“These guys will never be equalled at Linton,” Hart continued. “We talked about creating a legacy [in basketball], and they’re the ones [who did that].”
Sam Dyar wasn’t on the dais, but his Linton basketball career also ended Saturday. Dyar, who injured his knee during the Pizza Hut Wabash Valley Classic, then reinjured it trying get healthy enough to play again, was a quiet presence in the Miner locker room after the game.
“It’s been kind of bittersweet,” he said of having to watch his teammates, “but it’s been great for the school; I wish we would’ve won.”
The forced inactivity didn’t make Dyar feel any less a part of that legacy, he pointed out. “They’ve been pretty good about that,” he said of his teammates.
BOWMAN ACADEMY (86) — Dillard 10-15 4-6 24, Pipkin 5-7 6-7 16, King 7-10 1-1 16, Haggard 7-16 0-0 15, Riddle 1-6 0-0 2, Franklin 1-4 0-0 2, Daniels 0-2 2-2 2, Cole 2-3 0-0 4, L.Jackson 2-7 1-1 5, Perry 0-0 0-0 0, Barfield 0-1 0-0 0, Lenear 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 35-71 FG, 14-17 FT, 86 TP.
LINTON (73) — Fougerousse 8-16 7-13 25, Bohnert 3-7 2-2 8, Karazsia 11-13 7-8 29, B.Jackson 2-6 0-0 5, Fulk 1-4 2-2 4, Dieball 0-0 0-0 0, Riddell 0-0 0-0 0, Woodward 0-0 0-0 0, Eaton 1-1 0-0 2, Riggleman 0-0 0-0 0, Kocher 0-0 0-0 0, Johnson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-47 FG, 18-25 FT, 73 TP.
Bowman Academy 20 24 16 26 — 86
Linton 15 16 21 21 — 73
3-point shooting — BA 2-13 (King 1-2, Haggard 1-4, Riddle 0-1, Daniels 0-1, Barfield 0-1, Dillard 0-2, L.Jackson 0-2), Linton 3-8 (Fougerousse 2-4, B.Jackson 1-2, Fulk 0-2). Total fouls — BA 19, Linton 15. Fouled out — none. Turnovers — BA 12, Linton 23. Rebounds — BA 32 (Dillard 6, Pipkin 5, King 5), Linton 32 (Karazsia 10, Fougerousse 6, B.Jackson 5, Bohnert 4, Fulk 1, team 6). Assists — BA 15 (Riddle 5), Linton 17 (B.Jackson 4, Fougerousse 3, Bohnert 3, Karazsia 3, Fulk 3, Dieball). Steals — BA 16 (King 4, Dillard 3), Linton 5 (Bohnert 2, B.Jackson 2, Karazsia). Blocks — BA 4 (Dillard, Haggard, Cole, L.Jackson), Linton 2 (Karazsia, B.Jackson).
Records — Bowman Academy finished 18-9, Linton 24-4.