They started it and ended it.
And while Carmel Catholic's Corsairs didn't finish the way they wanted in the championship game of the Hinkle Holiday Classic, losing to Zion-Benton 61-49 Saturday night, they'll start the new year still a confident basketball team.
Carmel played the first of 40 games in the Jacobs tournament and earned a berth in the finale exactly one week later. The Corsairs (10-3) went 4-1 from Saturday to Saturday.
"At the beginning of the season, we sat down and we looked at the bracket, and we knew we had a good chance of getting to the championship," Carmel center Jack George said after posting a double-double of 10 points and 11 rebounds (as well as 4 blocks) and being named to the all-tournament team. "We really just took it one game at a time and focused on every opponent. We didn't look ahead or look behind. I thought we did a good job of staying in the moment."
Zion-Benton got 20 points, 11 rebounds and 3 steals from senior star Milik Yarbrough, whose flying one-handed dunk late in the game put an exclamation point on the Zee-Bees' championship effort. Yarbrough and junior guard Admiral Schofield (14 points, 6 rebounds) were unanimous all-tourney picks. Senior forward Jerome Davis also landed on the all-tournament squad. Davis delivered 11 points, 5 rebounds and 2 blocks coming off the bench against Carmel.
"He was starting, but he decided he wanted to come off the bench," said Yarbrough, who has offers from Florida, Minnesota, Illinois, DePaul, Auburn, Bradley and Loyola. "He says he plays better off the bench."
Sophomore guard C.J. Duff led Carmel in scoring with 17 points, including three 3-pointers, and also was named to the all-tournament team. The sophomore guard averaged 14.2 points per game in the tourney, showing off his outside shooting, movement off the ball and willingness to drive to the hoop.
"This tournament was probably his breakout for the year," George said. "I expect him to keep doing the things he did in this tournament. A lot of teams are zoning us because of me, Michael (Barr, 6-6) and Nickai (Poyser, 6-1) in the middle, and C.J. has that outside shot that works so well for him. From that first (tournament) game on (against Cary-Grove, 16 points), he's just been killing it, hitting all of his shots, making good plays to the basket and finding teammates. I was really impressed with him."
"Not only is he a sophomore, but he's actually a young sophomore," Carmel coach Tim Bowen said of Duff, a second-year varsity player. "We got some freshmen that are just a couple of months younger than him. For his age and his size, he's pretty gifted. We're pretty excited about his future."
Duff's floater in the lane pulled Carmel within 50-45 with 4:50 left in the fourth. But Yarbrough got to the foul twice and sank 4 of 4 free throws, and the Zee-Bees scored 11 straight points down the stretch before Lee Bowen's late layup ended a Carmel scoring drought that lasted more than four minutes.
"The kids and I were talking about this," Tim Bowen said. "We haven't said 'moral victory' in 2-3 years at Carmel. I even made that up. I said, 'We're not living on moral victories. We're coming out here to win.' A lot of people can talk about the setup (of the tournament) and how the 'championship' game was (Friday night, Zion-Benton vs. Larkin). I think our kids are poised and in a position to play with teams like Zion. We just have to finish a little better at the end of the game."
Carmel had a 17-10 lead early in the second quarter when Barr (10 points) finished a long inbounds pass from Bowen with a two-handed breakaway dunk. But a steal and finger-roll layup by Yarbrough was part of an 8-0 run by the Zee-Bees, who led 27-23 at halftime. Duff's 2 free throws just before the end of the third quarter had Carmel within 43-37.
Zion-Benton kept its composure in the fourth playing against Carmel's deliberate half-court offense. The Zee-Bees didn't turn the ball over in the final quarter, either.
"We knew they were going to try to play like that because we're way faster and athletic than them," Yarbrough said. "So they had to figure out a way to slow us down and be patient to get points to stay in the game. But we decided that we were going to pressure them on the ball."