WHITING | The same fans that chanted "Overrated!" during every one of his 10 free throw attempts couldn't wait to snag an autograph or take a postgame picture with Branden Dawson.
The McDonald's All-American couldn't walk an inch without an avid attention seeker presenting him with a program, shirt or even a shoe to sign.
During the game Dawson garnered lots of attention, too, and teammates such as Devonte Harris, Deandre Williams and Isaiah Carter made sure host Clark paid for it, especially in the second quarter.
Harris and Williams alleviated the pressure on Dawson, a Michigan State recruit known to most fans as "BJ," by making shots from the perimeter as the Hornets took control of the game for good in the second quarter. Wallace survived a slight third-quarter lapse to repeat as the Hammond sectional champion with a 62-46 win Saturday night at Clark.
"They triple-teamed BJ, and we just had to put our foot down and let them know we're here," Harris said. "We're ball-players, too, but we're also pretty comfortable with (Dawson) having the ball 99 percent of the time."
The defending state runners-up led 37-15 at halftime. Clark (13-9) hustled, scrapped and did almost everything right in the third quarter and still trailed by 11 entering the final period.
The Hornets (11-10) had a rough start to the season, but as they hoisted the championship trophy, they knew the rigorous road trips were worthwhile.
"From the beginning of the year we've really matured," said Harris, a senior who had 10 points and five steals off the bench. "We played a lot of good teams, and we know that was all getting us ready for right now."
Dawson, who hit nine free throws and scored a team-high 13 points with eight rebounds and six steals, said the team's depth was key to the big second quarter. All 12 Wallace players played in the game's first 14 minutes.
"We knew we had to take care of business," Dawson said. "We came out and wanted to get it done."
Dawson was getting all the attention after the game and will continue to do so on the road to the regional next Saturday. The team will honor the McDonald's All-American at 5 p.m. Thursday at the McDonald's on 35th and Grant in Gary. Earlier Saturday he was named to the Kentucky Derby Festival Basketball Classic, which will be April 22 in Louisville, Ky.
"It's a big opportunity," Dawson said. "I've just been believing, having faith and staying with it. I believed in God all along."
Mario Herron led Clark with 14 points and four steals. Martez Frith had eight of his 10 in the third when the Pioneers outscored the visitors 18-7.
"(Clark) made a run, and we made changes," Wallace coach Renaldo Thomas said. "I had to find people who wanted to play.
"Devonte Harris, Deandre Williams and Isaiah Carter played with a lot of passion and firepower off the bench."