Noah Thomas wasn’t Harrison’s first option to take the final shot against West Lafayette on Friday night.
But the Raiders, and all of their classmates who poured onto the court in celebratory mayhem, are glad he was the final option.
Thomas’ buzzer-beating jump shot lifted Harrison to a 52-50 victory — the Raiders’ third straight against their crosstown rivals.
“I saw it go in, and I just knew the crowd was going to go crazy,” said Thomas, who posted 10 points and nine rebounds but hadn’t scored in the second half before the game-winner. “It was a great time.”
Harrison used three timeouts and drew up at least three plays in the final 36.6 seconds. With eight seconds left, Taylon Sondgerath’s inbounds pass under the basket went to Cole Smith. The senior guard, who scored a team-high 16 points, was expected to take the final shot.
But when Smith met resistance, he kicked it back to Thomas. The 6-foot-7 junior center dribbled for a couple of seconds before putting up a turnaround jumper with West Side senior forward Brian Bangs’ hand in his face.
The roar of the home crowd obscured the sound of the buzzer.
“I was going to try and see if I had something, but I saw Noah open on the block,” Smith said. “I knew as soon as he shot it it was in, too. It was the greatest feeling ever.”
Though Thomas’ shot will linger in memory, both teams felt Harrison’s third-quarter surge decided the game. The Raiders (10-9) turned a 29-25 halftime deficit into a seven-point lead entering the fourth quarter.
West Lafayette (15-5) rallied back, and Nai Carlisle’s back-door layup with about 43 seconds to go tied the game 50-50. Carlisle finished with 15 points, and Justus Stanback posted 16 points and eight rebounds, but the Red Devils’ three-game winning streak ended.
“I thought we came back with some fire late in the game, but we just didn’t bring it in the third quarter, and it killed us,” said West Lafayette senior forward Caleb Shinn, who contributed 12 points and three assists.
In Harrison’s 53-44 victory over West Lafayette in the J&C Hoops Classic’s third-place game on Dec. 1, the Raiders scored 26 fourth-quarter points. That rally came one period earlier Friday, as the Raiders took advantage of seven West Side turnovers while outscoring the Red Devils 19-8.
“Our offensive execution was really good,” Harrison coach Mark Rinehart said. “We went in the paint, played inside out. We’re not going to score 80 points, but we’re a lot better offensively than we have been.”
West Lafayette hit 13 of 21 first-half field goal attempts, a blistering 62 percent. But the Red Devils, rarely outrebounded thanks to the 6-foot-8 Stanback and 6-5 Bangs, were down 16-7 on the boards, mostly due to Harrison’s eight offensive rebounds.
With Thomas’ second-highest rebounding effort of the season leading the way, Harrison finished with a 31-21 rebounding advantage. The Raiders had 10 second-chance points to West Lafayette’s one.
“I told our players before the game that we would look at the rebounding stat and figure out who won,” West Lafayette coach Dave Wood said. “They got 10 more offensive rebounds than us. If you look at second-chance points, I think you’ll see they really hurt us, and in a two-point game even one of those is big, obviously.”
The student councils for both schools combined to raise $28,500 via the Hoops for Hope program, which helps local families in need due to medial hardships. Much of that was raised through the sale of gray Hoops for Hope T-shirts, which fans from both schools wore to the game.
“This game’s not even about us really,” Smith said. “To get this win for our school is the most amazing thing ever, and on top of it for it to be that special and have them all coming here. It just ends a perfect week for us.”