When the Tech High School basketball team hits the Bankers Life Fieldhouse floor Saturday night for the Class 4A state championship, it will be the culmination of a long journey.
More than three years ago, when Jason Delaney got the job as Tech coach, he gathered the team in the locker room and told them he expected the Titans would win a state championship. Now that Tech is here, facing Lake Central, there are conflicting emotions.
“I was sitting on the couch with my 4-year-old watching the Kentucky-Florida game a couple ago and told him, ‘Trey (Lyles) will be playing for the blue team next year,’ ” Delaney said. “He started crying. It’s a bittersweet feeling. You try not to focus on that because you’re trying to live in the now, but it’s hard to think that this is the last week because of what these kids have meant to my life and the school. They’ve totally changed the culture of the school.
“It’s a cool thing to see. This isn’t a school that’s won multiple state championships, so it’s cool to see the alumni and fans support us the way they have.”
Forget multiple state championships, Tech is still searching for No. 1. In four trips to the state championship game, Tech is 0-4. Adding to the urgency is that an Indianapolis Public School program hasn’t won a boys basketball state title since Broad Ripple in 1980.
Tech will suit up 11 seniors on Saturday night. The time is now.
“It’s not just for us, it’s for our city,” said senior Mike Jones. “It’s big to them.”
A title would be a long time coming for Tech.
Here’s a trip down memory lane to the program’s previous state finals appearances:
In 1929, the state finals consisted of 16 teams playing over two days at Butler Fieldhouse (renamed Hinkle in 1966), which was originally built to host such an occasion the previous year.
There were a pair of stunning upsets in the round of 16, as Bedford knocked off Martinsville and Washington defeated defending champion Muncie. Led by Emmett Lowery – who was named the Gimbel Mental Attitude winner – Tech knocked off Vincennes and Fort Wayne South Side on Friday and eliminated Washington in an afternoon game on Saturday.
Tech, coached by Tim Campbell, started slowly in the championship game against Frankfort, but rebounded to tie it 21-21 with three minutes remaining.
From the Indianapolis Star: “All but a few of the fifteen thousand fans cheered madly for Tech to take the lead and a chorus of boos greeted Frankfort’s attempt to stall in an effort to stop the Campbell-men’s attack.”
Frankfort won 29-23, preventing an Indianapolis school from claiming its first state title. Little did anyone know at the time it would take another 26 years for that to occur.
Campbell was still coaching in 1934 when Tech made its second state finals appearance.
Led by 13 points from star center Johnny Townsend, Tech defeated Jeffersonville in the afternoon game to set up a state championship showdown with Logansport.
Again, it wasn’t meant to be. In front of a capacity crowd of 14,883, Logansport jumped out to a 10-0 lead on its way to a 26-19 win. Tech moved Townsend around, but he was held to four points on 1-for-5 shooting.
From the Indianapolis Star on March 18, 1934: “Logansport unquestionably deserved its victory last night. It played in top form, took advantage of every opportunity and prevented Tech from working any of its set plays which had proved so valuable in previous tilts. Logansport controlled the tip-off, prevented Townsend from getting his hands on the ball except on rare occasions and kept the Campbellsmen from following in their long field goal attempts.”
It was the first title for Logansport and came on coach Cliff Wells’ birthday.
Tech had the ultimate weapon in 1952, a multisport star named Joe Sexson.
By the 1950s, competition in the city was incredibly tough. In the sectional, Tech defeated Crispus Attucks by three points, Howe by two and Decatur Central by two.
Sexson, also a standout in baseball, football and track, won both Mr. Basketball and the Arthur L. Trester Mental Attitude Award. But despite his 83 points in the final four games of the tournament – a number surpassed by only three players at the time – Tech again fell short.
Muncie Central, despite losing four starters from the previous season, repeated as state champions with a 68-49 win over Tech. Indianapolis was still without a state championship.
A story in the Indianapolis Star described the mood after the game: “No one said much. A few half-hearted cracks were passed back and forth, but were soon dropped as everyone sat around in dumb misery. Leaning against a locker (Tech coach) Herman Hinshaw gazed at the trophy and at the rings the kids had. ‘They’re pretty all right. But, gee, I wish we would have won.’ “
Sexson had 26 points in the final and teammate Al Northington added 17. But it was mostly a miserable shooting day for Tech, which had also struggled in an afternoon win over Lafayette Jeff.
“The Greenclads were complete strangers to the basket,” the Star reported the following morning.
It was a theme that would repeat itself 14 years later.
By 1966, the city had four state titles. Oscar Robertson and Crispus Attucks broke through in 1955 and ’56 and Attucks added a third in ’59. In 1965, Washington won the championship.
And in 1966, it looked like Tech’s turn.
“We had the city behind (us),” said Otis Curry, a senior starting guard that season. “We had an assembly that week and the mayor was there. There was a big buildup, especially since we were playing a small school in Cloverdale in the afternoon game.”
Tech was led by senior Mike Price, who would play at Illinois. His brother Jim, who would go on to play at Louisville and in the NBA, was then a sophomore.
“Jack Bradford was a really good coach,” Curry said. “He got the most out of us. We had won 15 games the year before and had four starters coming back. We gave teams a lot of problems because we had an eight-man rotation and four guards. We had a lot of talent.”
Tech lost to top-ranked Howe twice during the season, but the anticipated rubber match wouldn’t happen. Howe was upset 51-50 by Beech Grove in the regional semifinals and Tech knocked off Beech Grove that night.
Tech defeated Aurora and Greensburg the following week to set up a matchup with Cloverdale. The other state finals teams were favored Michigan City Elston and East Chicago Washington.
Tickets outside Hinkle Fieldhouse were going for $50.
“We didn’t play well that whole weekend,” Curry said. “We played so much better all season than we did that day.”
Wrote Bob Collins of the Indianapolis Star: “Tech got tangled in some wild Clover and almost ended on the short end of one of the biggest upsets in tourney history.”
Cloverdale’s population of 741 was just 26 more than Tech’s graduating class. But it trailed just 52-51 with 1:51 left. Tech survived, 58-51.
In the championship against Michigan City, Tech led 24-16 in the first half and it was tied 30-all at halftime. But the Titans shot just 9-for-35 in the second half and went more than four minutes without a point.
Michigan City’s size took over in a 63-52 win.
“It got away from us in the second half,” Curry said. “It wasn’t our best game.”
More Collins: “For Tech it was chapter four in a long tale of grief. Four times the Titans have reached the state finals. Four times they have played in the championship game. And four times Tech players have accepted their runnerup rings and choked back tears while somebody else clipped down the nets.”
There was one more chance, in 1978. Led by 6-10 phenom Landon Turner, the Titans were one game away from the state finals. But despite Turner’s 28 points on 12-for-15 shooting, Tech lost 70-66 to Jackie Moore and eventual champion Muncie Central in the semistate final at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
And that would be it for Tech. Until now. The Titans have picked up more followers along the way, including alumni who have told the players they haven’t been to a game in years. Turner has been a regular at games through the postseason.
There’s just one final hurdle to climb, one that has eluded this program four times since 1929.
“We know we’re not just doing this for ourselves,” Lyles said. “It’s for our school, our community and Indianapolis. We want to go down in history.”
A glance at today’s state finals games
Barr-Reeve (26-1) vs. Marquette Catholic (19-6), 10:30 a.m.: Class basketball has been good for Barr-Reeve, which owns three Class A runner-up finishes. The top-ranked Vikings lead the state in fewest points allowed (39.9) and will look to control tempo. Marquette Catholic is the first Michigan City school to make the state finals since Michigan City Elston in 1966. Marquette Catholic has played a tough schedule.
Prediction: Barr-Reeve edges Marquette Catholic to claim its first title for veteran coach Bryan Hughes.
Park Tudor (23-4) vs. Westview (23-4), 12:45 p.m.: Top-ranked Park Tudor has a chance for its third title in four years and senior Trevon Bluiett a final chance to make an impression for Mr. Basketball voters. Westview will bring a ton of fans from Northeast Indiana and has an excellent point guard in Jordyn Bontrager.
Prediction: Westview keeps it close for a half, but Park Tudor pulls away for another title.
Greensburg (27-1) vs. Bowman Academy (22-4), 6 p.m.: This could be the game of the day. Greensburg is ranked No. 1 and the defending 3A champs; Bowman is ranked No. 3 and moved up after winning 2A a year ago. Both teams like to get up and down the court. Bowman is sixth in the state in scoring (77.7 ppg) and Greensburg is eighth (76.2). Can Bowman’s superior depth be a factor?
Prediction: Greensburg finds a way and wins by a basket.
Tech (26-2) vs. Lake Central (22-3), 8:15 p.m.: Tech defeated Lake Central 80-61 on Jan. 3, though it was a four-point game going into the fourth quarter. Tech has showed this season it can win playing any style of game. Lake Central has two necessary ingredients to beat Tech in strong point guard play and size.
Prediction: It’s a game into the fourth quarter, but Tech wins its first state title.
Call Star reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.