How do you celebrate second place?
Maybe, you don’t. But you can appreciate it.
Let’s face it. After you reach the mountain top of Indiana high school basketball, your view changes. The end goal from the outset this year wasn’t to win the sectional, the regional, or the semi-state. It was to go back-to-back. That goal fell three points shy in a 52-49 loss to Silver Creek on Saturday.
But don’t let that overshadow the journey to get back to Bankers Life Fieldhouse. There are 101 teams in Class 3A. Ninety-nine would be willing to trade places with Culver right now.
And, as coach Mark Galloway said in the post-game press conference, CMA had a target on its back all year. Every team wanted to take down the defending state champs. It was a gauntlet more than a season. Yet, the Eagles set a new standard, posting a 24-4 record.
That is better than 2018’s 23-6 record, which was better than 2017’s 21-3 record. That’s a three-year total of 68 wins against 13 losses, which is an 83.9 percent win rate. And those wins include three sectional titles, two regionals, two semi-states, two state finals appearances, and one state championship.
The memories produced this season include probably the best game ever played in a packed Fleet Gym against LaLumiere, the No. 1 team in the country, which ended in a 46-45 overtime loss. The noise was deafening. The atmosphere electrifying.
And the 52-41 sectional win over Mishawaka Marian was especially sweet after the Knights beat Culver, 39-38, on Dec. 11. Marian has given the Eagles some of their best games every season.
That’s not a bad run for this senior class of Ethan Brittain-Watts, John Cohen, and Jordon Freeman. These three players have been part of more titles than all the other CMA basketball players combined.
Brittain-Watts, who finished with a game-high 23 points, ends his career as the second-leading scorer in CMA history with 1,375 points. He trails only Jackson Atoyebi ’01 (1,431) and is ahead of Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson ’94 (1,284). He will play at Boston University next season.
Less than 24 hours after winning the prestigious Arthur L. Trester Mental Attitude Award, John Cohen was with the Prep lacrosse team in Baltimore, Md., a place he will call home for the next four years while he plays lacrosse for Johns Hopkins.
And, after spring break, Freeman will begin training to repeat as one of the top sprinters in Indiana after going to the state finals last spring.
Remember that over the past nine years, CMA has been to the state finals three times. Only two other teams in the state, Carmel in Class 4A and Park Tudor in Class 2A, can say the same. Silver Creek won its first state title in any sport since joining the IHSAA in 1925.
And, you should feel proud that two members of the 2011 state runner-up squad, Juwan Brescacin ’11 and Jermaine Myers ’12, are invested enough to leave their homes near Toronto to attend the game, stopping by Culver just to walk the empty campus.
But, for some reason, this season lacked the fairy tale ending.
“We wanted to play better. We wanted to shoot better,” Galloway said. “You get into the state finals and you want to play your best game. We didn’t play our best game. And that happens. That’s part of growing and learning.”
For one of the few times this season, the Eagles were outrebounded (35-27). They shot just 45 percent from the line; and 37 percent from the field, including just 30 percent from behind the three-point line.
“They were really good defensively. They were big and well-coached,” Brittain-Watts said. “They took away a lot of things we wanted to do.”
Silver Creek shot even worse from the line (34.6 percent), but hit 50 percent from the field, including a remarkable 55.6 percent from beyond the arc. And the Dragons turned the ball over just four times, limiting CMA’s fast break opportunities.
The Dragons also stayed in front, leading at every break, and keeping the lead for 28 minutes and 29 seconds of the 32-minute game. Culver only led for 92 seconds. The Eagles largest lead was just one point. Silver Creek led by as much as 10. But the Eagles came back, getting within one score of tying the game twice in the last minute, but they just couldn’t get over the hump.
“We always say if you’re really upset at the end of the season, it should be because you don’t get to practice next week,” Galloway said. “It’s not about winning or losing that ball game, it’s more about it’s over.”
Saturday’s results were not what Culver fans wanted – or, maybe, expected – but it doesn’t diminish what was accomplished this season. The run up to Saturday’s game was remarkable. It’s now time to sit back, reflect on the journey, and appreciate what we have witnessed.