LAFAYETTE, Ind. — There was an escape route available for Damezi Anderson, but the South Bend Riley senior never thought twice. Not even a glance, let alone an attempt.
With a crowd of TV reporters gathered at one end of a hallway near the Wildcats’ locker room inside the Crawley Center, a right turn meant freedom from the scrutiny, a clear path away from the questions, from reliving his second-ranked team’s upsetting 63-43 loss Saturday to No. 10 Carmel at the Class 4A Lafayette Jeff semistate.
Instead, the four-star Indiana Hoosiers recruit turned left and faced the cameras’ lights head on.
The two-time Northern Indiana Conference most valuable player had nothing to hide. Win or lose, the spotlight was his for better or worse, even if he was less than 100 percent. Rumored to have been contending with illness throughout the week, most knew the answer before he verified the fact. Averaging 19.7 points per game, Anderson finished with six points in the loss — all scored in the first half.
Typically a reliable shooter, Anderson shot 2-of-13 against Carmel, a far cry from his prolific 2,210 career-point pace, which cements him as St. Joseph County’s all-time leading scorer.
“No excuses,” the 6-6 wing remarked when asked if his health impacted his effectiveness. “I still need to come out and play hard every possession, so there’s no excuses.”
None at all. Anderson and his teammates owned the loss, the program’s first in more than a calendar year, dating back to last year’s sectional defeat against South Bend Adams, 73-72.
The Wildcats were a perfect 26-0 heading into Saturday, their second semistate berth in four years and first since 2015. They expected a 27th win, the team’s first potential semistate championship in 73 years, but Carmel’s defense ended their state title dreams.
An energetic and high-flying squad known for highlight-reel dunks and an up-tempo transition offense, everything seemingly unraveled at the wrong time for the Wildcats. That left a stunned South Bend Riley crowd, which empathized with its team, the same kids who infused hope and excitement back into a community that needed it.
“Down in South Bend there’s not a lot of good stuff happening, so I just tried to put our city on the map,” Anderson said. “We put our city on the map. We had a good season. We just weren’t the best team on the floor tonight, To me, I think we had an outstanding season.”