MARION – Homestead senior Caleb Swanigan tried to give his coach the regional championship plate but Chris Johnson was having none of it.
"No, all you," Johnson told Swanigan amid a sea of blue and yellow chaos. "You guys earned it."
The No. 4 Spartans did indeed earn their reward Saturday, scoring the game’s final 10 points to rally past No. 2 Carmel 41-37 to claim their second straight Class 4A Marion Regional title.
Homestead (27-2) will face South Bend Riley (12-14) in the semistate next Saturday at either Huntington North or Lafayette Jeff. The Spartans not only will be playing for their first berth in a boys state title game, but they’ll also have to beat Riley coach and Johnson’s brother, Mark, to get there.
After two games Saturday, Johnson and the Spartans will be ready to see a friendly face on the other sideline.
In the morning semifinal, it took a last-second shot from Jordan to lift Homestead over rival Carroll 59-57. Then Saturday night, the Spartans’ window of opportunity was closing quickly as Ryan Cline’s 21st points of the game gave Carmel a 37-31 lead with 5:27 to play.
The next 5½ minutes, though, sent Homestead onto the semistate. Neither Cline, a Purdue recruit, nor the Greyhounds scored the rest of the game, and the Spartans somehow made the plays that had been a struggle for most of the night.
"We had to stop people," Johnson said. "It looked gloom and doom there for a while. But our kids kept battling. We found a way to score. We hit big shots. I can’t remember all the plays now."
The last few minutes were a blur for many.
Geist scored five straight points for the Spartans to bring them within 37-36, and then got the ball back when Swanigan rebounded a 3-point attempt by Keegan Culp with 2:20 to play.
The Spartans worked the ball until Geist found himself open at the top of the key for a 3-pointer and a 39-37 lead with 1:39 to play. Cline, who hit 7-of-19 shots, missed two straight 3-point attempts, the last of which Swanigan grabbed with 54 seconds to go.
Swanigan scored inside with 37 seconds left for a 41-37 lead. Tahj Curry then stole the ball in the backcourt but missed a subsequent free throw, giving Carmel one more possession. Preston Flamion’s 3-pointer missed, and Geist ran out the clock to set off the celebration.
"Oh man, I’m awestruck right now," Geist said. "It was a tough game. We definitely kept our mental toughness through it all."
Geist finished with 13 points, while Swanigan had 18 points, 11 rebounds and three assists. And in the anticipated matchup with Cline, who along with Swanigan is a leading candidate for Mr. Basketball, Swanigan came away with the regional championship plate.
"I feel like I have the better team, and I can lead my team better," Swanigan said. "That’s really what it came down to, who could get their team in because he scored and I scored. But I felt like I was able to look for my teammates down the floor.
"I’m just proud of my teammates and the way we stepped up."