TERRE HAUTE —
Much as he enjoyed his high school basketball team’s 76-75 overtime win over Speedway a week ago at the Class 2A Richmond Semistate, there are parts of it that coach Joey Hart of Linton doesn’t want to see again today.
“We can’t have a flurry of three or four straight turnovers that turn into 10 points [for the other team],” Hart said this week as the Miners prepared for their 12:45 p.m. state championship game against Bowman Academy.
The Miners somehow survived a 22-7 disparity in turnovers against Speedway’s defense, and the Eagles from the private school in Gary are expected to bring the same, if not more, pressure today.
There are two sides to the coin that includes those semistate stats, however. When the Sparkplugs weren’t stealing the ball, they were often giving up layups at the other end of the gym. That’s the part of the semistate victory that Hart wouldn’t mind seeing repeat itself.
“We have to make [the Eagles] pay for pressing us,” he said this week.
Two more contrasting teams for a state championship game would be hard to find. The Miners, ranked 10th at the end of the regular season, bring a 24-3 record into the game and two of those losses came in three days following an injury to former point guard Sam Dyar.
The seventh-ranked Eagles are just 17-9 for the year, but can claim the edge in strength of schedule. They played some of the best teams in the state in all classes and are making their second straight appearance in the championship game — although with pratically an entire new team from the one that got blown out last year by Yogi Ferrell and Park Tudor — and third in five years. Linton is in a boys state championship game for the first time in school history.
Linton has the top two scorers in the game, with 6-foot-5 Dess Fougerousse (20.9) and 6-8 Austin Karazsia (20.4) combining for more than 41 points per game. Bowman has more balance, with 6-3 senior Antonio Pipkin (12 ppg) providing leadership, 6-3 junior Arthur Haggard (13.7) outside shooting, 6-4 sophomore Davon Dillard (16 ppg) slashing ability and 6-7 junior Justin King (13.6) offensive rebounding.
Karazsia has the best rebound statistics among players on the two teams, and it would be a very good thing for the Miners if he did so again today. “We’ll have to hold [the Eagles] to one shot,” Hart noted. “They’re a very good offensive rebounding team.”
“We’ve learned from our losses,” coach Marvin Rea of Bowman Academy said earlier this week. “We’re going to ride whichever guys are on … we really need to keep an eye on [Fougerousse and Karazsia] but at no time can we underestimate [Linton’s other starters, guards Keith Fulk and Bryant Jackson and forward Jackson Bohnert].”
Bowman is probably the deeper of the two teams, although the Miners usually get productive minutes from Ryan Woodward, Zac Riddell and Beau Eaton. If history is an indicator, however, the Eagles will need to be deeper; their physical play will probably give the Miners several opportunities to work on their free throw shooting.
“This is the best free throw shooting team I’ve ever coached,” Hart noted this week.
The Miners promise they won’t get overwhelmed by the moment today. “We’ll treat it like it’s a normal game,” Karazsia said. “Bowman is a good team; we know that.”
And confidence shouldn’t be a problem if the Miners follow the lead of Fougerousse, whose personal cheering section today will probably include some of the elementary school physical education students he mentors.
“There’s no stage too big for Dess,” Hart said earlier along the tournament trail.
“I’ve been a confident person my whole life,” Fougerousse added. “If it rubs off, so much the better … and heart and chemistry beats talent.”
Tribune-Star correspondent Steve Fields contributed to this report.