I was hoping Southeast’s Jerrick Harding, so electric in the 6A state tournament, would have astute perspective to offer after his disappointing performance in an 80-56 loss to an impressive Shawnee Mission North on Saturday night at Koch Arena.
It’s easy to forget how young high school kids are and how their life experiences don’t register the way it can with those of us who are older.
Harding offered few words to describe his 5-of-14 shooting performance, after two games in which he had scored 81 points and made 26 of 44 shots.
“I hate losing,” is the crux of what the 6-foot Harding had to say.
He blamed himself, saying that he didn’t attack the basket the way he should have. He said he did a poor job in leading his team. He said all he can do is look forward and try not to look behind.
And then he went out the doors into the night, hoping time would ease his pain.
“In a week or two, I’ll probably have better thoughts of what we accomplished,” he said. “But right now, it’s horrible.”
Harding became the talk of the town after his first two games in the 6A tournament, scoring 42 in a first-round win over Olathe East and 39 in the semifinals against Lawrence.
He and 6-4 sophomore Israel Barnes, who had 47 points in Southeast’s two tournament wins, helped draw a nice crowd for Saturday’s finale. That crowd left the building, however, unimpressed as Barnes made 3 of 20 shots before fouling out.
It was strange to watch Southeast struggle after being so good in the first two rounds. And when Harding made two three-pointers in the opening minute or so of the game, helping the Buffaloes to a 9-0 lead, it appeared he was once again off to the races. What was he going to do in this game?
Shawnee Mission North, though, had a plan for nullifying Harding and the size and athleticism to make it work. The Indians made it difficult for him to penetrate and find good shots, which he had done so effectively and easily in the first two games.
Harding did score 22 points and supplanted former Dodge City forward Ernie Goolsby (96 points, 1979) as the leading scorer in a 6A tournament with 103.
But Harding’s mood was so glum he wasn’t even aware he set the record until a reporter told him. In a couple of weeks it’ll mean something to him.
Southeast coach Melvin Herring said Harding injured a foot in a collision with an SM North player in the second quarter and was hobbling around at halftime.
“In a situation like this, you’ve got to play through things,” Herring said. “These are growing pains. You’re young, you’re learning those things. You have to be able to step up and be able to finish out a basketball game like that.”
As the game wore on, though, it became apparent Southeast wasn’t in SM North’s league. The Indians, led by senior fraternal twins Michael and Marcus Weathers, were dominant. The Weathers brothers combined for 46 points on 18-of-26 shooting while junior Avante Williams made 7 of 9 shots and scored 20 points.
The Indians shot 62.5 percent to Southeast’s 26 percent and had 43 rebounds to Southeast’s 25.
Harding could only spin his wheels. He did score two quick baskets to start the second half, but the Buffaloes couldn’t do any better than trade baskets until SM North started to pull away.
“That’s a great team we played and that’s experience,” Herring said. “Those guys have been together for four years.”
Several of Harding’s shots were blocked by a talented SM North front line. He had four turnovers, most of them after losing control of his dribble while being pressured as he tried to find a lane to the basket.
It just never came together.
“You feel bad for him,” Herring said. “He wanted to go out as a champion and go out on top. Yes, he’s gotten a lot of accolades and he’s accomplished a lot. But at the same time, he wanted to put that cherry on top of the cake. To go out with a state championship would have really been the pinnacle for him.”
It wasn’t to be. The great career of the City League’s fourth leading career scorer ended in disappointment and futility.
He was having one of the best state tournaments anyone has ever had, but it all came crashing down in the biggest game of his life.
Life is like that. Things don’t always go according to plan.
Harding, though, learned a lesson Saturday. He’ll be better for this experience and after talking to him after the loss, I think he knows there will be a silver lining.
It’ll just take some time to navigate through the cloud.