KENDALLVILLE – When North Side’s Keion Brooks’ tailbone met the floor with a thud during the second half of the East Noble Class 4A Sectional finals against Carroll on Saturday night, everyone inside the gym froze.
“I was a little concerned,” North Side coach Shabaz Khaliq said later. “Obviously, I wanted him to get up.”
After about a minute, the Legends exhaled as Brooks got up, walked gingerly to the free-throw line and calmly hit two free throws.
He then continued to carry the Legends on his now-aching back, scoring 21 of his game-high 28 points in the second half to lead North Side to a 57-44 win over Carroll for a second straight sectional championship.
The 2017 4A state runner-up North Side (20-5) will face Zionsville at 10 a.m. next Saturday in the first game of the Logansport Regional. Homestead and Carmel will meet in the second game, with the winners playing at 8 p.m. for the championship.
As the North Side players took their turns cutting down a piece of the net Saturday, Brooks was the last player to climb the ladder. After snipping his share, he came back down, only to find his teammates yelling for him to go back up and get the rest of the net.
“Bring the whole thing down?” he asked. “All right.”
Brooks, who had five rebounds, three assists, one block and hit 17-of-22 free throws to go with his 28 points, earned the biggest piece.
“Keion was dominate and when he’s dominate, he’s a handful,” Khaliq said. “But what I thought he did a great job of tonight was getting his other guys involved.”
Brooks scored seven points in the first half and the Legends trailed 27-20 at halftime as Carroll junior Dan McKeeman had 14 points, including three 3-pointers. When Carroll senior Riley Perlich opened the third quarter with a rebound basket to give the Chargers a 29-20 lead, Brooks apparently had seen enough.
“I settled too much in the first half, so I knew coming into the second half I had to live around the basket a little bit more and draw some fouls,” Brooks said.
On North Side’s next possession, Brooks posted up inside and made a spin move to score the first of 11 points in the quarter. He then added a drive down the lane for a two-hand slam and a free throw cut the Carroll lead to 29-27.
After David Ejah’s rebound basket pushed the Chargers’ lead to 31-27, Brooks posted again in the lane and went up for a lob pass, only to find Carroll senior Reece Swoverland under him, sending Brooks to the floor.
“Excuse my French, but it (ticked) me off a little bit,” Brooks said of the play. “I feel like it was a dirty play; it was uncalled for. So that lit a fire under me a little bit more.”
Brooks hit two free throws but Nathan Fish, whose 3-pointer at the buzzer Feb. 6 gave Carroll a 64-61 win over North Side, hit a 3 to put the Chargers up 34-29.
Brooks answered with four more points, making it 34-33 entering the final period.
Brandon Johnson opened the fourth with a jumper that gave the Legends their first lead of the game, which they never relinquished.
Perlich hit a 3-pointer with 5:46 to go to cut North Side’s lead to 40-39, but Brooks then made perhaps his biggest play of the night – a pass to Austin Boucher, who buried the first of two straight 3-pointers to put North Side up 46-39 with 3:30 to play.
“Keion was working in that post hard and they didn’t have an answer for him,” said Boucher, who finished with 14 points. “They ran two or three guys at him and they weren’t really communicating too well on that. So whenever my man went, Keion just kicked it out to me and I was able to knock it down.”
Carroll (20-4), the regular season SAC champions, went more than four minutes without scoring, as McKeeman (17 points) hit a 3-pointer with 1:35 to play. By that time, North Side was up 52-42, then hit 7-of-10 free throws in the final two minutes to earn the 27th sectional title in school history.