St. Joseph ends Hammond's last dance: Indians stun Wildcats in OT to extend Johnson's final season
SOUTH BEND -- In 36 years and 812 games as a head coach, Mark Johnson's seen just about every scenario unfold in a basketball game.
Comeback wins are nothing new to the South Bend St. Joseph coach, who announced his retirement last month, though this one, given the circumstances, was especially sweet.
Down 13 at the half to Class 3A No. 1 Hammond, his Indians swung the game by 22 points in a span of 11 minutes after the break, only to lose a nine-point lea and have to survive a last-second shot to get to overtime, where they went coast to coast to knock off the Wildcats 79-71 and capture the South Bend Washington Regional.
"I said it an interview last week," Johnson said. "What's your favorite regional? The one that we won the latest. It's this one. It's special. It can't get any better than that."
As difficult as it was for the Indians to generate offense in a first half in which it shot 8-of-26 and didn't have a 3, it seemed ridiculously easy for them after the break.
"The middle was so open," Johnson said. "We told those guys they have to be able to score the basketball. Let's be ball players. We had to make sure we weren't afraid to win."
St. Joe figured it out, converting basket after basket on low post entries to the 6-foot-5 duo of Will Terry and Jack Futa, to not only wipe out the deficit to surge in front 56-47.
"Their length, athleticism and strength bothered us," Johnson said. "The second half, it didn't. Thirteeen points is 13 points. We had to chip away. we weren't going to get it all at one time. We had to get it a little bit at a time."
Scoring the first 10 points out of the intermission, the Indians quickly closed within three (36-33).
"One of the things we talked about was it's more of a mental game than a physical game," St. Joe's JR Konieczny said. "I guess the nerves were running a little deeper in the first half. All of us were like, we've just got to slow down. We knew what we needed to do on offense. We knew they were beatable. Everyone calmed down. The coaches all believe in us, we believe in the coaches, we all believe in each other. We were getting the ball to each other. Everyone was on the same page. We can go out there and execute, and that's why we got the open looks we got."
Down 45-41, St. Joe stormed in front with a 15-2 surge in the first 2:56 of the fourth quarter.
"The third quarter was tough," Hammond's Harold Woods said. "We didn't play our game, I guess. We came out stagnant. Our defense wasn't how it was in the first half. They had more energy than us. We let them get too comfortable. We came out stagnant. They got too many offensive rebounds. They played harder. I guess they wanted it more than we did."
Hammond had its own answer, rallying for a 61-all tie with 1:16 left on a Vynce Overhawn and-one. It had the ball at the end of regulation following a St. Joe miss at the line and worked the clock down for a final shot, which Darrell Reed back rimmed from about 18 feet as time expired.
"We missed a lot of easy shots," Woods said. "Reed had a good shot at the end but the ball just didn't fall our way. That's how it goes sometimes. We tried our best, it just wasn't enough."
Cole Hatkevich didn't take a single shot in the first three quarters, then banged two deep 3s in the fourth quarter and another in overtime as St. Joe (21-4) jumped in front 68-63 and salted the win away at the foul line.
"He grew up big time," Johnson said. "What he did was what we've expected him to do all along. He was a player."
The Notre Dame-bound Konieczny endured an off shooting night, but made up for at the line, hitting 11 of 15 free throws to score 24 points. Terry, who had four points at the half, put up 10 in the third quarter among his 17, making eight of nine shots. Futa recorded 11 of his 17 after the break with seven in the fourth. He was also the trigger man on five of the post entries, trading places with Terry three times for layups as St. Joe continued to hammer the ball into the paint.
Woods' 23 points led Hammond (17-2) with Reed totalling 20 and Jordan Woods 17.
The game was the last for the school, which will merge as part of a Hammond consolidation to become Hammond Central.
"We had a good season," an emotional Woods said. "We just didn't want our season to end. It was helping us along, but I feel like we let a lot of people down with this. I feel like we should've went all the way, but good luck to them the rest of the way."
St. Joe will make the short trio to play Leo (23-4) in the northern semistate Saturday.
"Hopefully, we've got two more games to play," Konieczny said.
South Bend St. Joseph defeated No. 1 Hammond 79-71 in overtime Saturday to win the Class 3A South Bend Washington Regional title.