LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Indiana’s 16th consecutive win in the IndyStar Indiana All-Star series with Kentucky may be remembered as the “Great Escape.”
Armed with just eight players, the Indiana All-Stars saw a 19-point lead almost entirely melt away at Bellarmine University on Sunday. Kentucky’s Tyler Sharpe took a potential tying 3-pointer from the left wing as the clock ran down, but it was partially blocked by Evansville Reitz guard Dru Smith to preserve a 99-96 win.
As the ball fell harmlessly to the floor, Smith bumped into Sharpe. Kentucky fans begged for a whistle that never came.
“I kind of hit him afterwards,” Smith said. “It probably could have gone either way.”
It went Indiana’s way, which is how it normally goes in the series. Indiana owns a 95-42 overall lead in an event that dates to 1940, and has won 24 of the past 25. But there have been some seriously close calls in recent years, especially in the games played in Kentucky.
Sunday’s game didn’t appear to be one of those. With seven minutes left, Indiana led by 19.
“I think we were looking at the clock, hoping it runs out,” Indiana All-Stars coach Stacy Meyer (Greensburg) said.
After Tyrik Edwards scored on a drive to cut Indiana’s lead to 96-94 with 31 seconds left, Kentucky actually got the ball back — briefly — on a stolen in-bounds pass. But Eugene German stole it back. He missed the front end of a one-and-one, but Damien Jefferson grabbed the offensive rebound and got the ball to Smith, who was fouled and hit a pair of free throws.
Indiana was able to survive and advance the streak to the 2017 class. German, a 6-foot guard from Gary 21st Century, finished with a game-high 34 points and Desmond Bane of Seton Catholic added 25 points on 10-for-10 shooting.
“It meant a lot to me,” said Southport’s Joey Brunk, who had 10 points and five rebounds. “I didn’t want to go down as the group that messed up the streak.”
Indiana rolled to a 106-84 win over Kentucky on Saturday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. But that was with an 11-player roster. The All-Stars were without Mr. Basketball Kyle Guy (Lawrence Central), Tech’s C.J. Walker and Fort Wayne Carroll’s Kyle Mallers on Sunday. Guy (Virginia) and Walker (Florida State) were en route to their respective colleges, All-Star game director Charlie Hall said, and Mallers had his high school graduation.
Cathedral’s Eron Gordon missed the entire week as he enrolled in summer classes at Seton Hall, and Bloomington South’s Tucker Blackwell missed the week with an ankle injury.
Hall, in a statement to IndyStar prior to Sunday’s game, said: “The All-Star roster for the second game against Kentucky is the result of a perfect storm due to a combination of injury, graduation and unanticipated last-minute travel arrangements.”
While Hall pointed out that there have been few defections for even part of the week during his eight years as director, he said it’s worth taking a closer look at the selection process moving forward.
“There is a legitimate concern that there are deserving players who unfortunately miss out on a roster spot,” Hall said. “Going forward we are going to identify ways to better assure the players selected to the team will be able to fulfill their entire commitment. We are confident that this group of young men and women will represent Indiana with class. Overall, we could not be happier with how this group conducted themselves the last eight days.”
Eight was enough on Sunday, though just barely. With 7.4 seconds left, Jefferson made the second of two free throws to give Indiana a 99-96 lead. Smith, a 6-2 guard who is regarded as the best defensive player by his All-Star peers, admitted there was some confusion on the final defensive possession.
“We thought we knew who we had, but we got lost in transition,” he said. “Desmond Bane told me to get over there and get No. 10, so I just happened to get out there and block his shot.”
Mason Faulkner, a Northern Kentucky recruit, led the Kentucky All-Stars with 21 points on 5-for-10 shooting from the 3-point line. Kentucky Mr. Basketball Carson Williams, a 6-6 Northern Kentucky recruit, added 19 points and nine rebounds.
Meyer relied heavily on German, who had been coming off the bench in previous games this week. The Northern Illinois recruit played 38 minutes, hitting 13-of-21 from the field. The 6-5 Bane, a TCU recruit, had by far his best game of the week as well.
“I knew I had to step up,” Bane said. “All year long I’ve been able to score the basketball. That’s just what I did tonight.”
Since the 16-game streak began in 2009, it is the fifth win by Indiana by five points or fewer.
“They were definitely a good team with a lot of good players,” Brunk said. “But it’s always fun to beat Kentucky.”
Call IndyStar reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649. Follow him on Twitter: @KyleNeddenriep.
INDIANA 99, KENTUCKY 96
INDIANA (99) — Murphy 4-6 4-4 12, Brunk 5-11 0-0 10, Smith 2-4 4-4 9, German 13-21 4-4 34, Bane 10-10 2-2 25, Hazen 0-5 0-0 0, Jefferson 2-9 4-6 9, Gelon 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 36-69 18-20 99.
KENTUCKY (96) — Williams 8-11 3-6 19, Wilson 0-1 2-4 2, Faulkner 7-14 2-3 21, Goodin 6-14 1-2 14, Edwards 6-8 0-0 12, Weyer 3-8 0-0 7, Cook 6-6 0-0 14, Taylor 1-1 0-0 2, Tisdale 1-3 0-0 2, Sharpe 1-6 0-0 3, Blevins 0-4 0-1 0, McKim 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 39-77 8-16 96.
Halftime: Indiana 49-36. Three-pointers: Indiana 9-23 (German 4-8, Bane 3-3, Smith 1-3, Jefferson 1-2, Murphy 0-1, Hazen 0-3, Gelon 0-3), Kentucky 10-33 (Faulkner 5-10, Cook 2-2, Goodin 1-5, Weyer 1-4, Sharpe 1-6, Williams 0-1, Edwards 0-1, Tisdale 0-1, McKim 0-1, Blevins 0-2). Rebounds: Indiana 39 (Murphy, German 6), Kentucky 38 (Williams 9). Assists: Indiana 17 (Smith 5), Kentucky 15 (Faulkner, Goodin 3).