The scoreboard said Griffith lost Wednesday night’s Class 3A north semistate.
Marion scored 60 points to the Panthers’ 58, the winning points coming on Gage Pinkerton’s rebound basket in the final seconds.
It was his only basket of the night.
Five days ago, the Griffith basketball team was inside an overturned bus in a ditch on I-65 and the fact they even played a basketball game Wednesday night made them winners.
Players and coaches still show the scars, both physically and emotionally, from the crash that happened en route to play Marion in the semistate game at Crawley Center.
Martin Schiele left the Lafayette Jeff gymnasium on crutches, ice wrapped over his damaged right knee still aching from the effects of what happened Saturday.
Schiele was one of four double-figure scorers form Griffith (25-4), hitting 3 of 7 3-pointers and scoring 10 points. After the end of his high school basketball career, he lifted the spirits of a team crushed from the way its season ended.
“We defeated life,” Schiele said. “That was the most victorious thing you can ever accomplish. That is the main things that humans are scared of is death.”
Marion (22-7) used a 12-0 run in the middle of the fourth quarter to turn a 55-46 deficit into a 58-55 lead with 4:14 remaining.
The Giants put the ball in the hands of star Reggie Jones with the score tied late. Jones missed a pullup jumper and Pinkerton used every bit of his 6-foot-10 frame to pull down the rebound over Anthony Quintero, then put it off the glass to send Marion to the state finals for the first time since the Giants lost on a Gordon Hayward buzzer beater in 2008.
“In the locker room before the game, we were saying that the whole state was against us,” Pinkerton said. “We had to give it our all just like they gave it their all.”
While Marion celebrated, Griffith stayed in the locker room, knowing a large contingent of media was waiting to ask about topics not pertaining to losing a heartbreaking basketball game.
It’s been a whirlwind year for the Panthers.
Last year, they were despised on their way to a runner-up finish in the Class 3A tournament. A February 2015 brawl led to the IHSAA forcing Griffith and Hammond to prematurely end their boys basketball seasons. The Panthers appealed and a Lake County court ruled in their favor, allowing them to compete in the postseason.
The Indiana appeals court ruled that Lake County erred in its ruling. The IHSAA has not taken action since winning its appeal.
Griffith coach Gary Hayes was adamant that he believes the IHSAA should “let Griffith go” in an assumed attempt to revoke the state tournament victories last season.
“If they want to punish me or they want to take money away from the school, we’re willing to do that,” Hayes said. “But please, do not take away what they achieved last year. I don’t see how anybody could do that to kids.”
For the last five days, most of the state has been rooting for them.
The bus crash again put their team in the limelight.
They arrived at Crawley Center more than two hours before tipoff Wednesday in a charter bus and with a police escort. Upon arrival, they were greeted with a line of news cameras from the bus to the door.
Schiele said it was expected. The bus crash brought on no shortage of distractions this week.
Having a game Wednesday in itself was a minor miracle.
“If you would’ve told me last Saturday I would be standing here today with you, I wouldn’t have believed it. I just can’t believe it,” Griffith coach Gary Hayes said. “I am just so honored to be able to coach those kind of kids and for them to buy in to what we want in our basketball program.”
Anthony Murphy scored 13 points and Tremell Murphy provided game-highs of eight rebounds and 20 points, the final two coming from the free throw line to pull Griffith within one. Marion went 4:14 without a point before Pinkerton’s putback.
After the Giants finished off a remarkable comeback in a unique environment for a game played at 6 p.m. on a Wednesday, Marion coach James Blackmon wrapped his arms around each Griffith player one-by-one and offered words of encouragement.
Blackmon’s team won a basketball game that was about more than basketball.
“Life has different messages, different directions,” Blackmon said. “Basketball is just a game. When you think about what those guys have been through and what they escaped to have that serious accident and come out unharmed, our thoughts and prayers go out to those guys.”
Griffith showed everyone it is not a team of “convicts,” alluding to a story prior to last year’s state championship.
“Last year was a little bad side and we had to make up for that,” Anthony Murphy said. “We succeeded (last year) in making it to state, but we came up short. This year, we had another incident. God has a plan in everything he does.”
The Panthers showed character. They had one technical foul in an emotion-filled game, but accepted defeat with class in what was the most unusual of circumstances.
“The bus is not an excuse why we lost,” Schiel said. “It’s something that is a learning experience, not only for off the court, but on the court too. Us losing, of course it hurts. When we lose, we feel the same type of way, but at the end of the day, I think they realized the bigger picture.”