Jeff Howard didn’t know what to say. The Southside boys basketball coach had said goodbye to teams before. But typically, that ritual involves saying goodbye to a team for the season, with the promise of a next year, if not for all the players, at least for the program. But Howard could not follow that script on Tuesday night.
Southside fell to Hamilton Heights 64-50 in the first round of the Class 3A Southside Sectional in Muncie Fieldhouse. Muncie Community Schools is consolidating to one high school next year at Central, so Tuesday was Southside’s (2-18) last ever basketball game.
No. 10 Hamilton Heights (18-3) advanced to play Central in Friday’s sectional semifinals. Central had a bye in the tournament’s opening round.
Howard emerged from the locker room relatively quickly, avoiding the long goodbye speech many coaches utilize after a season-ending loss. He said his main point of emphasis was thanking his players for the opportunity to be their coach for two years and the effort they gave him.
“I’m not exactly the easiest coach to play for, because I’m pretty demanding,” Howard said. “And teenagers sometimes don’t like that. But these kids have allowed me to be who I am. And they’ve given it their best. And I am proud of them. I’m extremely proud of them.”
The Rebels led at halftime in a game that became fiercely competitive in the second quarter. Sotuhside’s Shemar Isom drained a deep 3-pointer as the halftime buzzer sounded, giving his team a three-point lead heading into the break.
Isom scored 14 points in the second quarter to help his team get its halftime lead. Isom finished with a game-high 26.
Hamilton Heights’ Hunter Crist made three 3-pointers in the third quarter to help his team build a lead again in the second half, and the Huskies then held on to the advantage.
“If you watched the game that I watched, there was very good effort,” Howard said. “There was very good basketball IQ out there. There was some fire out there, there was passion out there. From my seat, it was beautiful to watch.”
Isom was the only Rebel to score in double-figures, with Jai’rese Simpson pitching in nine points. Simpson was one point away from a double-double, grabbing a team-leading 11 rebounds.
Hamilton Heights had three double-figure scorers, led by Garrett Paull, who scored 19. Crist added 17 and Grant Weatherford contributed 13 points for the Huskies.
After the game, Howard said he recently applied to become Central’s head coach next year. With the consolidation starting in the 2014-15 school year, Muncie Community Schools has opened all coaching positions.