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PEORIA - A crazy finish with an even crazier aftermath Sunday afternoon had the Lanphier High School boys basketball team boarding a bus and coming home a little earlier than the Lions had hoped.
But Lanphier coach Blake Turner said it was a necessary precaution.
Aarin Thames scored on a last-second shot to give the Lions a 46-44 overtime victory over Peoria Central in the semifinals of the River City Hoops Festival at Central's gymnasium, preventing the hosts from completing a wild comeback.
But moments later, Lanphier assistant Artie Taylor and official Norm Ulrich got into a heated exchange after Taylor reportedly said "and one" following Thames' shot, indicating Taylor thought Thames had also drawn a foul on the play.
Turner said he and the rest of the team were going through the handshake line, not realizing a situation was developing until he heard yelling from both Taylor and Ulrich.
The Peoria Journal-Star account said Taylor shoved an intervening official, who then ejected Taylor from the gym.
It was at that point, Turner said, he felt it was best if his team left.
"I've always been instructed by my athletic director and my principal to get the kids out of an adverse situation," Turner said Monday. "I felt like after the altercation that was not going to be a good situation for my kids to be in trying to play a basketball game. In the best interest of them and our program, I decided to walk away and leave."
Turner said the crowd had turned somewhat hostile following the incident and fans were milling around on the court.
"(Peoria Central) coach (Dan) Ruffin came out and he asked me to go back in and I told him I didn't think that environment was a safe environment for our kids to come in and play basketball at that time," Turner said.
Turner added the tournament is more than just summer competition. It's also supposed to serve as an officials' clinic. And despite normal post-game protocol, instead of running off the court, Ulrich confronted Taylor following Taylor's excited statement.
"That ref chose to go after (Taylor)," Turner said. "That ref should've left it alone. I've never had a problem with (Taylor's) bench decorum."
Ulrich is also an assistant coach for the Peoria Christian girls basketball team.
Because the title game was not played, Peoria Manual was declared tournament champion. Lanphier had gone 6-0 at that point while Manual was 5-1.
It was the end to a successful summer for the Lions as they began the post-Larry Austin Jr. era. Austin will play at Xavier University.
The Lions finished the summer 28-4, winning the Lincoln Shootout and finishing second at Peoria Richwoods. Lanphier was 4-3 at DePaul and went undefeated in the Illinois State Shootout.
"I think our future is promising and our kids are eager to get in and start working on individual skills now that all of our tournaments are behind us," Turner said.
Contact Ryan Mahan: 788-1546, email@example.com, twitter.com/RyanMahanSJR.