By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
PENDLETON, Ind. —
Eric Davidson’s short runner as time expired stunned Pendleton Heights on Saturday night and allowed Class 4A No. 6 Hamilton Southeastern to escape with a 56-55 victory.
The shot gave the Royals (4-1) their first lead since late in the third quarter and silenced an Arabian crowd that was fully prepared to celebrate an upset victory.
“All our kids played really hard,” Pendleton Heights coach Brian Hahn said. “We competed well. We executed a lot of things well. And we didn’t execute some things well.”
The most glaring lack of execution for Hahn was ball control.
The Arabians (1-1) turned the ball over 22 times, including 13 in the second half.
“Our turnovers gave them a chance to win,” Hahn said.
Pendleton Heights led 55-52 with 31.1 seconds remaining when it turned the ball over on a traveling violation following a rebound. Hamilton Southeastern’s Mr. Basketball candidate, Zak Irvin, drove the lane for an easy layup to cut the Arabians’ lead to one point with 13.3 seconds to play.
With 6.9 seconds left, Pendleton Heights senior Brogan Gary was fouled while making a pass to break the Royals’ press at midcourt. He missed the front end of the 1-and-1, and the Royals quickly got the ball downcourt to Davidson.
He dribbled fruitlessly as the clock wound down, and it appeared for a moment as though he wouldn’t get a shot up before the buzzer. Just before time expired, Davidson contorted himself around his defender and sank the game-winner off one foot as the final buzzer sounded.
“You can’t win with 22 turnovers,” Hahn said. “The ironic thing about it is, we could’ve won with 21. We’ve gotta be tougher with the ball. We’ve gotta be better with ball security. But it’s only the second game of the season.”
There was plenty for the Arabians to like about the contest.
Senior Kurt Talbert turned in an outstanding effort in the post and finished with 16 points and six rebounds. Gary followed up his 31-point debut with a gutsy 14-point, four-assist effort, and senior Nick Moore filled out a strong stat line with 11 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals.
Pendleton Heights also got timely baskets from juniors Levi Buck and Austin Brizendine, who finished with eight and six points respectively.
The real star of the day, however, was the Arabians’ defense.
A combination of defenders led by Gary held Irvin to just two points in the first half. The 6-foot-8 inch, Michigan-bound senior finished with a game-high 22, with 14 coming in the third quarter.
That was the stretch when it appeared as though the Royals were about to take control of the game.
Irvin led a 9-0 run that erased a six-point Pendleton Heights lead and put Hamilton Southeastern in front 35-32 with 2:26 to play in the period.
Hahn called timeout, however, and the Arabians finished the quarter on a 10-0 run. Talbert put an exclamation point on the outburst with a tip-in off an inbounds pass from Gary with .4 of a second remaining.
That gave Pendleton Heights a 42-35 lead entering the final period, and it appeared as though the home team had weathered the storm.
Hamilton Southeastern junior Tyler Jenkins, who finished with 12 points, scored six of the first eight points to start the final quarter, however, and the contest was tight the rest of the way.
Davidson was the only other Royal in double figures with 10 points.
The Arabians now have just two days to prepare for a trip to Westfield on Tuesday, and Hahn said they won’t forget the sting of this loss.
“You don’t get rid of this at all,” he said. “We’re going to soak this in and learn from it and try to grow from it.”