The top player was ... Moline senior Brock Harding. The old saying suggests that a young athlete is moving on to bigger and better things for “a reason.” But there isn’t merely one reason the 6-foot guard soon will be part of the Iowa men’s basketball roster. He put all of his talents on display inside State Farm Center on Saturday night, powering the Maroons to their first boys’ basketball state championship. Harding tallied 28 points on 7 of 11 shooting from the field, tacking on three assists and three steals. His nine points in the second quarter allowed Moline to turn a 17-15 advantage at the start of the period into a 32-25 lead by halftime, and that gave the Maroons all the lift they needed for the second half.
The key moment ... a Harding three-pointer with 1 minute, 32 seconds left in the second quarter. Moline (35-3) and Benet (35-2) still were engaged in a back-and-forth game at that time, as Redwings senior Brayden Fagbemi had converted a layup about 20 seconds prior to bring his team within a 27-25 deficit. Once Harding swished that triple over tight defensive coverage from Benet junior Ewola Moukoulou, also drawing a foul in the process, the complexion of the game seemed to completely change. The Maroons were in complete control of the second half, fronted by the two-headed future-Hawkeyes duo of Harding and 6-10 senior center Owen Freeman (six points, nine rebounds, three assists and one blocked shot).
By the numbers ... Moline shot 25 free throws versus Benet’s six on the evening, and the Maroons buried 21 of their chances. Harding was the biggest beneficiary of these attempts, sinking 11 of 14 tries. Senior Grant Welch added a 6 of 6 ledger, and senior Jasper Ogburn chipped in four makes over five attempts. ... Benet put three players in double figures scoring, led by Fagbemi (12 points) and senior Andy Nash (12 points). Senior and future Dartmouth player Niko Abusara contributed 10 points, but did so on 5 of 18 shooting from the field. ... This marks the third IHSA state runner-up finish for the Redwings in coach Gene Heidkamp‘s 15-year tenure.
Coach speak ... “It feels obviously good, but I’m so happy for these guys and the entire team. They had high expectations from day one, and they didn’t back away from it. They embraced it and went after it every day. That’s why they just kept getting better and better. Another day, another opportunity — that was our theme. and they lived it. They didn’t just say it, they lived it.” — seventh-year Moline coach Sean Taylor
Player’s perspective ... “It still doesn’t feel real. Everybody told me teams not from Chicago, not from the ’burbs, they don’t win it. But we came here, we shut all them up. What can they say now? We came out on top.” — Harding
Coach speak ... “I couldn’t be prouder of these guys sitting up here. They gave us an unbelievable season, from start to finish. I’m not sure what expectations were going into the year, but they easily surpassed whatever they were. So I think it’s a credit to not only these guys, but the guys in the locker room. They’re hurting a little bit right now, but we lost to a great team.” — Heidkamp
Player’s perspective ... “He’s a good player, going to Iowa. Blocked shots, versatile player. All the credit to him. Probably one of the best defenders I’ve ever played against, so he was definitely a problem for me.” — Abusara, on Freeman