Ben Davis goes 33-0 on way to IHSAA immortality: 'That’s a history-breaking team.'

·5 min read

Most of the crowd of 15,533 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on Saturday night for the Class 4A state basketball finals had cleared out. Ben Davis’ top-ranked team, about 30 minutes earlier, had finished off its historic perfect season with a 53-41 win over Kokomo and players and coaches mingled on the court, talking and laughing.

Except one.

Sheridan Sharp, the senior point guard, stood at halfcourt with his hands on his head, looking into the distance. Thousands of kids grow up in the state of Indiana dreaming to be in Sharp’s shoes. Few achieve it. Even fewer could probably appreciate the moment, truly soak it in, like Sharp did there at midcourt Saturday night.

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“There’s a lot of emotions going on right now,” Sharp said. “It’s a dream come true. I’m still in shock. We always dreamed of this. From the beginning of the season we wanted to be 33-0 and break the record. It’s hard to do something and live by it. What we did — we lived by it.”

It was the end of an incredible journey for a Ben Davis team that became the 14th team in the state’s high school boys basketball history to finish undefeated. None had gone 33-0. Ben Davis did it with a team that played together and unselfish, turning on the jets when necessary with an in-your-face press and sharing the ball like a team that truly did not care who received the credit.

“Going undefeated wasn’t my goal, it was theirs,” Ben Davis coach Don Carlisle said of his team. “But I’m so proud that we were able to do this together.”

It took everyone.

Ben Davis was on the ropes at the start of the fourth quarter, facing a challenge from 6-10 Kokomo junior Flory Bidunga, who had Indiana’s Mike Woodson, Michigan’s Juwan Howard, Kentucky’s John Calipari, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo and Auburn’s Bruce Pearl sitting courtside. Ben Davis big man Zane Doughty picked up his second and third fouls in quick succession in the third quarter and went to the bench.

Kokomo quickly went on a 9-0 run with Bidunga scoring eight of those points. Doughty went back into the game in the final minute of the third quarter with Ben Davis clinging to a 36-33 lead.

“First thing I’m thinking is the refs are trying to make this a game calling two ticky-tack fouls,” the 6-9 Doughty said with a smile. “But I had faith in my team they would hold them off long enough to get me back in there. And they did.”

They just did. Kokomo (24-5) had the crowd behind it and the momentum at the start of the fourth quarter. But Doughty made two strong moves on Bidunga, pushing the Ben Davis lead back to 40-33 with 6:20 remaining. Kokomo, unable to get its offense going again, fell behind by 11 points when Doughty scored again and Mark Zackery threw one down after a steal.

Ben Davis Giants Clay Butler III (13) hugs Ben Davis Giants Sheridan Sharp (5) on Saturday, March 25, 2023 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The Ben Davis Giants defeated the Kokomo Wildkats, 53-41, for the IHSAA Class 4A state finals championship.
Ben Davis Giants Clay Butler III (13) hugs Ben Davis Giants Sheridan Sharp (5) on Saturday, March 25, 2023 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The Ben Davis Giants defeated the Kokomo Wildkats, 53-41, for the IHSAA Class 4A state finals championship.

The Ben Davis fans, feeling it with an 11-point lead, started up the “We are BD!” chants. Carlisle, a Ben Davis alum who won two state championships as a player, urged the crowd to get louder. They complied.

“At Ben Davis, it’s what we learn, to play unselfish,” Carlisle said. “It’s a Ben Davis thing, not just a Don Carlisle thing. But I think that’s the way you play basketball. As I continue to evolve as a coach, that will never change. That’s something I’ll always hold on to. They’ll share the ball and play together as a team. You can’t say anything wrong about being 33-0. That’s a history-breaking team.”

Doughty, a day after his 18th birthday, scored a game-high 20 points on 10-for-13 shooting. The sophomore Zackery, who has earned the nickname “Big Game”, came up big again with 16 points, including 3-for-4 from the 3-point line. Shaun Arnold added 12 points.

Kokomo’s Bidunga, who has only been in the United States since August of 2021 after coming from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was in tears after the game. He hugged senior teammate Shayne Spear after Spear was named the Mental Attitude Award winner for Class 4A and broke down again when asked about what the team meant to him.

“It’s the last game with the seniors,” Bidunga said. “We won’t play together anymore. It’s the end of the season.”

Bidunga finished with 19 points, 11 rebounds and five blocked shots. He was 9-for-12 from the field, but was unable to cash in at the free-throw line, shooting 1-for-7. Zavion Bellamy had nine points. The Wildkats finished with 15 turnovers.

“Zane got back in the game and kind of got loose and we kind of ran out of energy,” Kokomo coach John Peckinpaugh said. “We had a few possessions where we bobbled the ball and didn’t capitalize on stops. But they are a great team and you have to be able to stop their runs. We weren’t able to stop their runs enough to get it done.”

There will probably be another team that comes along someday and goes undefeated, maybe even matches the Giants’ 33-0 mark. Maybe even some senior point guard will stand there again at halfcourt, smiling and teary-eyed, wondering how it all happened so fast and ended so perfectly.

Hopefully they soak it all in like the kid from the Westside did late Saturday night.

“These guys are like blood brothers to me,” Sharp said. “I love them all truly, passionately. It’s going to be sad I just played my last game with them, but I love them all. I truly do.”

Call Star reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: IHSAA basketball state finals: Ben Davis beats Kokomo for 4A title