INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — It only took 35 years and a trip to Bankers Life Fieldhouse but Mark James could call himself a state championship winning coach.
“(This state championship) means all the time I’ve spent away from my family has been worth it,” James said. “Anybody that coaches for as long as I have (knows) time you spend away from your family is lost time and you can never make it up. My family has been great. My wife has been unbelievable through this. She (arrived) in the limo and she’s going to leave in the limo. That was always our deal – if I ever made it to the state final I’d (rent us) a limo.”
James’ Ben Davis Giants won a defensive showcase over 27-win Fort Wayne North, 55-52. The game featured a total of 33 fouls with the teams combining to go 16-38 at the free throw line. The Giants held the edge at the line, which proved to be just enough to outlast the Legends.
The matchup featured two teams that had not made appearances in the state championship game for some time. Starting in 1993 the Giants made a run of four consecutive title appearances while winning the 4A title in back-to-back years in 1995 and 1996. The drought was even longer for the Legends who had not been to the state title game since 1965 and went by a different team name.
“I’ve had an awful lot of help over the years,” James said. “These aren’t the best players I’ve ever had, but they’re a really good team. They’re resilient, as a team. That’s what paid off for us, tonight. They did it as a team.”
Playing from behind, the Giants did just enough to keep the game within reach. The Legends pushed their lead to as much as nine in the second quarter only for the Giants to claw their way back and cut the deficit to five by halftime.
The missed opportunities at the line and poor shooting overall proved costly for the Legends in the latter part of the game. Unable to pull away, the Giants tied the game three times in the fourth quarter and with just over two minutes left in the game, knocked down the biggest shot. In what was part of a 6-6 shooting spurt from the field, senior Jalen Windham knocked down a corner 3 to give the Giants a 49-46 lead. They would not fall behind again.
“I knocked down a couple shots, so I had more confidence in me. I knew it was going (in),” Windham said. “I’m just happy I could knock down the shot. Regionals, semi-state, my shots weren’t falling, so I worked on it and worked on it – that corner shot specifically, that’s my shot. I’m just glad I could knock it down (late in the game).”