GREENFIELD — For the past two years, the boys basketball Class 2A state champion has advanced out of a regional that Greenfield-Central has hosted.
On Saturday, based on the high level of play showcased, the chances for a third-straight year seems likely.
No. 7 Indianapolis Howe took the regional title after a thrilling last-second steal and layup to defeat No. 4 Northeastern, 55-53. Howe started the game looking a bit sluggish, as it had played the second of the two morning regional semifinal games.
The worst of it for Howe came midway through the first quarter, when Division I recruit Tyler Smith drained a 3-pointer from the volleyball line to give the Knights a 16-5 lead.
But after Howe was able to play Northeastern evenly in the second quarter, it methodically began its comeback after halftime.
With leading scorer Kip Warren being held in check, Jermaine Couch and Tony Hopkins stepped up for the Hornets to bring Howe back into it. Couch, who recorded no stats in the morning game, finished with 13 points, while Hopkins would supply a team-leading 15 points.
Howe would take its first lead of the game at 46-44 midway through the fourth quarter, but the Knights’ Smith responded with five quick points to put the Hornets down three points again.
With Northeastern holding a one-point lead with 59 seconds remaining, Smith would foul out, leaving the Knights without their primary ball handler.
Howe would make 1 of 2 free throws to tie the game at 53-53, leaving Northeastern with a chance to hold the ball for the last shot. Without its point guard however, a mishap with the ball led to a steal by Howe’s Kycia Washington, who threw a pass the length of the court to a streaking Hopkins who laid the ball in as time expired.
“What a classic March Madness-type ending,” Howe coach Mosi Barnes said afterward while holding the game ball and Regional Championship plaque. “Words can’t describe what this means to our kids, community, and school. This gives us another week to come together and build something great.”
For Northeastern, this marks a third straight year of losing to a team from Marion County in the regional, but its performance on the day was nothing to be ashamed of.
In the morning game, the Knights defeated Cloverdale 94-74 behind 41 points from Smith. Butler recruit Cooper Neese of Cloverdale finished with 35 points, which included a three-quarter-court buzzer beater at halftime, but Smith provided too much for the rest of the Clovers.
Howe defeated IPS rival Broad Ripple in its first game 64-52 behind 18 points from Kip Warren. Howe took a six-point lead into halftime and never faced a serious threat to give up its lead in the second half.
Howe will next travel to Richmond to face Providence of Clarksville at 1 p.m. as it seeks its first State Finals appearance in school history.
T.C. Howe 55, Northeastern 53
NORTHEASTERN (23-5) – R. Smith 8 3-4 19, T. Smith 5 4-6 15, Reynolds 3 2-2 11, Stewart 1 4-6 6, Hampton 1 0-1 2. Totals: 18 13-18 53.
T.C. HOWE (22-7) – Warren 5 4-6 14, Couch 5 2-2 13, Hopkins 6 1-1 13, Pannell 3 0-0 6, Washington 1 4-6 6, J. Rush 0 3-4 3. Totals: 20 14-19 55.
3-pointers: Northeastern 4 (Reynolds 3, T. Smith 1), Howe 1 (Couch 1). Rebounds: Northeastern 22 (R. Smith 11, Hampton, Reynolds, T. Smith 3, Stewart 2), Howe 19 (Hopkins 5, Couch 4, Pannell, J. Rush, Warren 3, R. Rush 1).