INDIANAPOLIS – Jamal Harris has a 48-inch vertical jump. Oscar Robertson, at age 78, does not. Not anymore.
But Robertson leapt to his feet just the same — along with the rest of the green and gold-clad Tiger fans — when Harris skied for a rebound and putback with 0.9 seconds left Saturday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Harris’ bucket gave Attucks a thrilling 73-71 win over Twin Lakes in the Class 3A championship game, the first state title for the Tigers since 1959.
Robertson, the 1956 IndyStar Mr. Basketball and leader of Attucks’ state title teams of 1955 and ’56, raised his hands above his head and exhorted the crowd after Harris’ game-winning shot. Afterward, he placed the championship medals around the necks of the players, coaches, managers and administrators.
“This is almost like a movie script,” Robertson said. “I’m happy for the players. It’s their day.”
It was their day, and all of Attucks. The glory days, long gone for so long, had come again for a program that was the first all-black school in the country to win an open state championship in 1955. There was Oscar, hugging the current players after the win. And in the locker room, Attucks stars from the 1950s like Bill Hampton and Hallie Bryant exhorted the young Tigers to use this championship as a stepping stone to something bigger in life.
“I see myself in them,” Bryant said. “You see yourself all over again. Life is like that. We’re here to try to help them, I do believe.”
Attucks (25-4) had all kinds of trouble trying to put away Twin Lakes, which led by seven points early in the fourth quarter. Attucks rallied, taking a 71-70 lead on a baseline jumper by Teyon Scanlan with 1:28 left.
Twin Lakes (25-4) tied it 71-71 with 36.4 seconds left when Bryce Bennington made one of two free throws. First-year coach Chris Hawkins said he wanted his team to work the clock down and shoot with about six seconds left.
“We just wanted to run the clock down and not give them another shot,” Hawkins said. “We had an issue at the end of the half and turned it over and ended up giving up a (3-pointer). We wanted to wait a little bit longer.”
Alex Cooley let the time run down, then took a 3-pointer from the top of the key. The shot missed, but Harris found rebounding position along the left baseline and rose high over 6-3 senior Blake Bennington. Harris grabbed the ball at its highest point and shot it. As Harris fell back to Earth, the ball fell through the net and Robertson the rest of the Attucks crowd soared.
“The ball bounced our way,” Hawkins said. “I can’t say too much about the diagram of the play.”
Hawkins said Harris’ vertical jump “might be 50 inches on a good day.” Bennington, who had good position for the rebound, simply couldn’t jump quite high enough to snare the board.
“He got up higher than I did,” Bennington said. “That’s something I’ll always remember. He just outjumped me.”
Bennington’s brother, Bryce Bennington, led Twin Lakes with a game-high 32 points on 12-for-18 shooting. Bennington came into the game averaging 12.1 points.
Attucks’ seniors Scanlan (24 points) and Nike Sibande (23 points) led the Tigers. The 6-4 Sibande was especially tough during a stretch late in the third quarter after Twin Lakes had pushed out to a 59-50 lead. Sibande made a 3-pointer and followed with a 3-pointer as he was fouled and completed a four-point play.
Attucks was 11-for-18 from the 3-point line for the game.
“We didn’t lose, Attucks won,” Twin Lakes coach Kent Adams said. “They made the plays they had to make and their shooting was unbelievable.”
Twin Lakes arrived at Bankers Life Fieldhouse early and sat on their bench in a nearly empty arena. Across the gym floor was Robertson. “The good thing, guys,” Adams told his team, “is that Oscar Robertson isn’t playing tonight.”
But, as Adams noted, Attucks didn’t need Robertson in uniform on Saturday night. But the Tigers sure appreciated his support.
“It’s amazing to see everybody who came back to support us,” Sibande said. “We couldn’t do it without the fans and Oscar Robertson and all the alumni. It’s amazing to see everybody come back with all of their support.”
With their work done at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the Attucks set off for the 1.6-mile bus ride back to school. And then? The weather postponed plans for a parade around Monument Circle, but there would be a celebration. A big celebration.
“This is bigger than basketball,” Hawkins said.