By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
As senior Tre Boyd stepped to the free-throw line with 6.5 seconds left Friday night, a roar was building inside the gym at Anderson High School.
At least three years of frustration were weighing on Boyd’s next shot. When he made it, the fans could hold their joy no longer.
Indians coach Joe Nadaline called timeout to give his players quick instructions for the final possession, and the Anderson portion of the packed gymnasium loudly signaled its approval.
When play resumed, Boyd made another free throw and Pendleton Heights sophomore Sean McDermott missed a final 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded.
The Tribe’s 46-41 victory secured its first Madison County championship since 2008 and snapped a string of three straight losses against the rival Arabians in the title game.
“It was good to get the win because it seemed like every person felt like they had our number,” Boyd said. “Everyone except for us. We always felt like we could beat them. It just never happened until now.”
There were moments, even in this one, when it appeared Pendleton Heights (6-4) was headed toward its fourth straight county crown.
After a tightly contested first half that saw Anderson (8-2) take a 25-23 lead into the break, the Arabians opened the third quarter with a trademark display of their lock-down defense.
Pendleton Heights forced seven Anderson turnovers in the period and went on a 12-2 run to grab the biggest lead of the game by either team at 35-27.
But the Indians quickly responded.
Junior Kenya Wilkerson hit a 3-pointer to stop the bleeding, and senior Chris Lemon sank another trey to make it a two-point game.
Wilkerson appeared to tie the score with a steal and racing layup at the buzzer, but the shot was waived off after officials determined it did not get out of the point guard’s hands in time.
It was Wilkerson’s lone steal of the game, and he added nine points and a team-high three assists.
“Kenya was a little stud tonight,” Nadaline said. “That’s what he brings to the table. I’m awful hard on him, but I’m hard on him because I know the future that he has.”
Pendleton Heights senior Nick Moore bought his team some breathing room with a 3-pointer to open the fourth quarter, but Anderson slowly worked its way back into the game.
With both defenses forcing tough shots — the Indians shot just 38.6 percent from the field and the Arabians shot at a 31.7 percent clip — points were hard to come by.
Senior Timothy Boyd scored after a rebound to cut Anderson’s deficit to three, and senior Jalin Beard had a chance to tie the score with a layup and a foul at the 4:01 mark. But Beard missed the ensuing free throw, and neither team could find the net for nearly two minutes.
Lemon broke the drought to put Anderson back in front at 39-38 with 2:08 remaining, and Beard responded with a steal and transition basket to increase the Indians’ lead 15 seconds later.
“We just didn’t execute well enough offensively down the stretch,” Arabians coach Brian Hahn said. “We defended well. But we had to make some plays, and we just didn’t make plays on the offensive end.”
Wilkerson made the first of two free throws with 59.4 seconds to play, then McDermott — who led all scorers with 13 points — ignited the Pendleton Heights cheering section with a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 42-41 with 44 seconds left.
There was a bit of controversy moments later when a ball that appeared to go off Anderson senior Armon Daniels’ hands was awarded to the Tribe, and then Wilkerson found himself back at the free-throw line with 29.8 seconds to play.
Wilkerson had missed several free throws late in the Indians’ 74-66 victory at Lapel in the opening round last Saturday. After that game, Nadaline said the guard would get a chance again in the future.
This time around, Wilkerson knocked down both charity shots to increase Anderson’s lead to 44-41.
“I was happy I got another chance to do that,” Wilkerson said. “People don’t get chances like that all the time. I missed them at Lapel so when I made those I was relieved.”
Moore missed a 3-pointer against tight defense at the other end, and Boyd pulled down the rebound to set up his game-clinching free throws.
Senior Kurt Talbert joined McDermott in double figures with 11 points, but it was the first big game for many of the young Arabians. Even so, Hahn wasn’t in the mood for moral victories.
“We’ve got to get better, and that’s what our focus is,” he said. “Should we be happy to almost beat Westfield (earlier this season)? Are we happy to almost beat (Hamilton) Southeastern? Can we be happy to almost beat Anderson? No. We’ve got to get better.”
The win was cathartic for the Tribe, with six seniors who have played together nearly all of their basketball lives.
Lemon led the team with 11 points, Boyd had nine and Beard added eight.
Nobody was concerned with who got the credit. The focus instead was on the trophy they all accepted at mid-court.
“It’s about time we finally beat Pendleton,” Lemon said. “They’re a great team, don’t get me wrong. They’ve got a great coach, and (Arabians senior) Brogan Gary will be my friend forever. But it feels good to finally beat them and cut down the nets in our house.”