There’s no replacement for experience.
“I think it’s priceless,” Pike coach Bill Zych said after his boys basketball team relied on it heavily in a 73-65 overtime win over upstart Southport in the Class 4A sectional championship game Saturday at Ben Davis.
The sectional crown was the fourth straight under the direction of Zych for Pike (14-8), which will face Brownsburg in next Saturday’s regional.
That rich experience was on display late with Pike’s only senior starters, Kendall Rollins and Jalen Morgan. Rollins scored all 17 of his points in the second half, including the final six for Pike in overtime. Morgan hadn’t hit a shot all game but found a spot in the Southport zone defense and hit a short jumper in the lane to give Pike some breathing room in overtime with a 64-60 lead.
“Just Kendall Rollins — playing (in three championship games), playing in the state championship game — when the game’s on the line and he’s got to make free throws, he was pretty calm up there; and Jalen Morgan and his experience in the program about playing (at) Pike and what we expect,” Zych said.
It looked like youth might prevail early. Southport –which went from finishing 1-19 last year under then-first year coach Kyle Simpson, to playing for its first sectional title since 2000 — raced to a 25-9 lead when freshman starter Paul Scruggs drilled a deep jumper with 4 minutes, 40 seconds left in the first half.
But Pike’s Tahjai Teague caught fire. His 16 first half points kept Pike afloat, as the Red Devils closed the half with a 20-11 run that included a last-second shot. With 2.8 seconds left in the half, Pike inbounded the ball to sophomore Justin Thomas, who caught the pass over the top of the Southport defense, took one dribble and banked in the 3-pointer to trim the Southport lead to 36-29 at halftime.
“We emphasized that we wanted to do it for our seniors,” Teague said. “We didn’t want to be the team to mess up the streak.”
Not relying solely on experience, Zych played freshman guard Justin Roberts for 15 minutes. He hit some key shots, none more so than a floating buzzer-beater to end the third quarter as he fell out of bounds after snaring a last-second offensive rebound on the baseline. The shot gave Pike a 47-46 lead.
“That’s a big play. We get the rebound, we’re up one instead of down one,” Simpson said.
Teague finished with 25 points to lead all scorers. Junior Jeff White added eight points for Pike, including a pair of free throws late in the fourth quarter to give Pike a 59-57 lead. It was the second straight game the Red Devils had to rally from a double-digit first half deficit.
“We were in kind of a similar situation (in Friday’s 52-50 semifinal win over Ben Davis),” Rollins said. “We were down big in the first half, so we just tried to build off what we did (then) and come out in the second half with a harder mindset to win the game.”
Sophomore center Joey Brunk scored 21 points to lead Southport (15-8). Junior Malik Bennett added 17 and Scruggs, the freshman, scored 14, including a pair of free throws to tie it at 59 and force OT.
“I told them it’s almost like a title fight in boxing,” Simpson said. “They’re not going to give the title to you. You have to take it from them. I thought we came out really aggressive early, but they made a run and we panicked a little bit and showed our youth and inexperience. Hopefully, we’ll grow from this and take a big step next year.”
Pike (14-8) 73, Southport (15-8) 65 OT
Southport — P. Scruggs 4 5-8 14, Bennett 7 0-0 17, Johnston 0 0-0 0, Walton 1 0-0 2, Brunk 7 7-8 21, Jewell 0 2-2 2, Davis 2 0-0 4, N. Scruggs 2 1-2 5 Totals: 23 15-20 65.
Pike — Thomas 2 2-2 7, Teague 10 3-7 25, White 2 2-2 8, Morgan 1 2-4 4, Rollins 4 7-7 17, Roberts 2 3-3 7, Marshall 0 0-0 0, Shelton 1 0-0 3, Long 1 0-0 2. Totals: 23 19-25 73
3-point shooting — Bennett 3, P. Scruggs 1 (Southport); Rollins, Teague, White 2; Thomas, Shelton 1 (Pike). Total fouls — Southport 19; Pike 19.