HUNTINGTON — In the end, these Memorial Crimson Chargers were even harder on themselves than they'd been all season on their opponents.
Maybe that's a slice of why they got this far, but whatever the many ingredients were, they took zero consolation in charging back from a 15-point deficit and nearly knocking off Carmel — the No. 1 high school basketball team in the state in the computerized ratings — before being nipped 62-59 in Saturday night's Class 4A northern semistate at Huntington North.
The Greyhounds (22-4) advanced to next Saturday's 4A state championship against Indianapolis Pike.
“We should've gotten everybody together with Todd (Johnson) and Urston (Smith) fouled out, but we didn't come up strong enough,” fellow senior Jyrron Cooper said after Memorial's two season-long leaders each picked up their fifth fouls in the final 28 seconds.
“I was keeping track of fouls in my head, but that was a silly foul,” Johnson said of his fifth. “I take full responsibility. For lack of a better word, I bullcrapped my team. I just got caught up in hard work and determination to get the ball back and forgot it was my fifth.”
“I didn't know I had five fouls,” Smith admitted of his fifth. “I thought I had three (before the foul). I should've' been out there. I'm a leader on the team. I felt I should've been out there. We still had a chance.”
Coach Mark Barnhizer, who has acknowledged being a demanding coach, wasn't accepting of the self-brutalization in this case.
“I couldn't be prouder of anybody or anything than those kids,” Barnhizer said. “It's made being at Elkhart Memorial the last six years worth it. That group of kids leaving is a special group.”
Even with Johnson and Smith out, the Chargers had the ball inside of 10 seconds while down just 60-59.
Carmel senior guard Ben Gardner, though, deflected away a pass from James Hershberger to Markese McGuire in Memorial's forecourt and broke free before being chased down and fouled with 0.4 seconds left.
He then hit both free throws to give him a game-high 21 points.
After a timeout, Parker Devenney fired a long and successful pass to Hershberger at mid-court, but the latter's desperately improbable turn-and-fire came up short.
“We made a few mistakes (near) the end that were really costly, but you gotta admire how our kids battled like they did after getting down so much the first half,” Barnhizer said. “I don't think they ever felt like they were out of the game, and they never do feel that way. The way we battled back the second half showed our character.”
“We didn't give them a lot of steals — I though we handled their pressure really well — and we limited their offensive rebounds, and those are two things they've really relied on,” Carmel coach Scott Heady said. “We made them score in the half-court, where defense has kind of been our backbone.”
Smith led the Chargers with 20 points to go with seven rebounds. Johnson added 17 points, eight assists and two steals.
McGuire, Memorial's lone junior starter, contributed 13 points and went 7 of 7 at the line. Cooper added seven points, a game-high nine boards and two steals, while Evan Weaver had a half-dozen rebounds and two blocks.
The Greyhounds, who led from the opening basket onward, jumped to a 21-12 lead through one quarter and were up by a high of 35-20 with less than three minutes left in the first half.
The Chargers outscored Carmel 16-8 in the third quarter to close to 45-41 entering the final period.
They could never knot the game, though.
Just before he fouled out, Johnson went to the line with a chance to tie it, but made 1 of 2 for a 58-57 deficit. That was after he had already scored 12 second-half points and made a couple critical takeaways to get his team into that position.
Gardner missed two free throws with 12 seconds left, just before making his decisive steal.
“I was trying to redeem myself,” Gardner said. “I took a chance, ended up getting a hand on it. It was somewhat lucky, somewhat good timing. We just needed a play. (Memorial's) really tough, one of the toughest teams we've obviously played all year. They were aggressive and strong, but it was fun, a good game.”