SEYMOUR – With six minutes left in Saturday’s Class 3A semistate, Crispus Attucks was doing its best to hold off a talented Evansville Bosse team looking to make its second consecutive state finals appearance.
The pace was electric. The tension high.
That’s when 2-year-old Jeremiah Parker bolted from the Attucks’ fan section on to the court. His uncle, Attucks senior Nike Sibande, was in his sights before a cheerleader swept him up and carried the laughing toddler off the floor.
Jeremiah was back out there soon enough, celebrating with multiple generations of Attucks graduates, fans and players after the Tigers finished off an 84-77 win over Evansville Bosse to clinch the program’s first state finals appearance since 1959.
Fourth-ranked Attucks (24-4) will play No. 6 Twin Lakes (25-3) in the Class 3A state championship at 6 p.m. on Saturday. Jamal Harris, a high-flying junior, led Attucks with a sensational 30-point performance.
“I feel like at age 17 that I can’t really process it yet,” Attucks senior Zac Owens said. “In like 20 or 30 years, I think I’ll be able to realize how special this was.”
That was the message from former Attucks standout Bill Hampton, who addressed the team Friday. Hampton, who will be inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame next week, was a starting senior guard on Attucks’ 1955 state championship team that made history as the first team from an all-black school to win an open state tournament.
The Oscar Robertson-led Tigers won another state title in 1956 and capped a decade of dominance with another state championship in 1959. But the 1.9 miles from Attucks to Bankers Life Fieldhouse — the current site of the state finals — seemed increasingly distant as the years passed.
The Tigers showed signs of life with back-to-back Class 2A sectional titles in 2014 and ’15. Chris Hawkins took over a talented roster this year and has been able to mesh the pieces to build a championship contender.
“At the beginning of the season we had a lot of games we didn’t close,” Hawkins said. “The kids learned from that. I’m proud of our kids to stay with it and not wilt under pressure. I’m just excited to see the kids finish the game off. The support is great. The kids see how much everybody is behind them and they are comfortable in this moment.”
The game was played a furious tempo all afternoon. Harris started hot with 14 first-half points on 7-for-8 shooting as the Tigers took a 39-37 lead to halftime. Attucks pushed it to 66-56 around the time little Jeremiah Parker ran on the court.
Bosse wasn’t done. Mekhi Lairy, a 5-10 junior guard, put the Bulldogs on his back despite foul trouble and leg cramps. The diminutive Lairy scored 16 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter, including a 3-pointer that brought Bosse within 75-74 with 1:08 left in the game.
Owens, who finished with 20 points, hit two free throws on the following possession and Bosse was unable to get any closer. Harris finished off his monster game with 10 points in the fourth quarter.
“A lot of teams play off Jamal because they think he can’t shoot,” Hawkins said. “He can. He’s improving and he shot great tonight.”
It was a crushing loss for Bosse, which had its sights set on a return to Bankers Life Fieldhouse after losing to Marion in last year’s Class 3A finals. The Bulldogs also would have moved up to 4A with a win under the Indiana High School Athletic Association’s tournament success factor.
“I told my guys I want to be mad,” Bosse coach Shane Burkhart said. “But I can’t be. We got beat by a better team. Maybe we’re 5-5 if we play 10 times. But I’m so happy for (Hawkins) and his team and the chance they are going to get.”
The chance of a lifetime. Sibande has thought about it often.
“I thought it was possible,” he said. “But it’s still hard to believe.”
Call Star reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.
CRISPUS ATTUCKS 84, EVANSVILLE BOSSE 77
Evansville Bosse 18 19 14 26 — 77
Crispus Attucks 15 24 18 27 — 84
Evansville Bosse (20-8) — Chinn 6 2-4 14, Lairy 10 8-12 30, Hunter 4 1-1 10, Langley 9 0-4 18, Tsianguebeni 1 0-0 2, Johnson 0 0-0 0, Minor 1 0-0 3. Totals: 31 11-21 77.
Crispus Attucks (24-4) — Cooley 5 0-0 13, Williams 0 0-0 0, Scanlan 3 2-2 9, Harris 13 4-9 30, Sibande 3 0-0 7, Briscoe 2 1-2 5, Owens 8 3-4 20, Poole 0 0-0 0. Totals: 34 10-17 84.
3-point goals: Bosse 4 (Lairy 2, Hunter, Minor), Crispus Attucks 6 (Cooley 3, Scanlan, Sibande, Owens).