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LeBron James’ Team Wins State Title

March 23, 2003

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) _ Before his final high school game tipped off, LeBron James walked slowly toward the Akron Saint Vincent-Saint Mary student section holding his finger in the air to signal ``No. 1.″

Whether he was referring to himself or his team doesn’t matter. Both are correct.

James, likely to be the top pick in this year’s NBA draft, scored 25 points and had 11 rebounds as the Fighting Irish (24-1) won their third state championship in four years, beating Kettering Alter 40-36 Saturday in Ohio’s Division II.

Doug Penno led the Knights (18-9) with 12 points and Eric Laumann had 11.

Alter had been beaten 73-40 by the Irish earlier this season. The Knights weren’t about to get blown out again, slowing the game and refusing to let the Irish push the tempo.

It didn’t matter. James was too spectacular and just too dominant when he needed to be. The only three-time Mr. Basketball in Ohio history was far better than everyone on the court.

James made a pair of free throws to put the Irish up 31-25 with about 5 1/2 minutes left. The inbounds pass was tipped and James gathered it in and nailed a long 3-pointer, holding his follow-through and again holding one finger in the air.

After Laumann made a 3-pointer for Alter, James knifed through the defense and scored on a twisting layup.

The outcome looked like it was decided, but Alter wasn’t done. Alter came within 40-36 with less than a minute to play on a three-point play by Adam Gill.

James then threw away a pass. Alter missed a 3-pointer and Romeo Travis was fouled after pulling down the rebound. He missed the free throw, but James got the rebound and passed to Dru Joyce III, who dribbled out the clock and threw the ball straight up toward the ceiling.

The Irish opened the second half with an 11-2 run to take a 25-21 lead. The run included two beautiful blocks by James, one left-handed on a fast-break, and was capped by a 3-pointer by Jones from the top of the key.

Alter came right back, scoring consecutive points to tie it at 25 before Travis scored on a short jumper to give SVSM the lead.

The first quarter ended with SVSM holding an 8-6 lead as Alter slowed the pace in an attempt to keep James and the high-octane Irish from running for easy baskets.

It worked for the entire first half, which ended with Alter up 19-14. James had one breakaway early in the second quarter that he capped with a brutal two-handed slam, but the Irish had to earn the rest of their points in their half-court offense.

The Irish appeared confused at times as the Knights were patient, but attacked when they had openings. Alter scored 13 points in the second quarter while holding SVSM to six. James finished the first half with 12 of his team’s 14 points.

The Irish shot 6-for-17 in the first half, while Alter shot 8-for-16. Penno had nine points in the half.

After James made a free throw to give the Irish a 14-12 lead with 3:30 to play, the Knights closed the half on a 7-0 run.

The game opened with SVSM’s usual theatrics. James slipped past his man, took a pass down low and threw down a two-handed dunk 19 seconds in, drawing cheers and gasps from the state-tournament record crowd of 18,454.

The game featured the first female referee in the history of the boys tournament, Marie Anthony of Columbus.

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