Lawrence North honored its 40-year, four- time state champion coach, Jack Keefer, before Friday’s game against visiting Center Grove.
For at least a half, it appeared the underdog Trojans would crash the party.
The host Wildcats, ranked 11th in Class 4A, made sure they gave their coach a happy outcome, asserting themselves late in the third quarter.
Center Grove, which entered night with a 6-11 record, led 28-23 at halftime. But a 10-0 Lawrence North run that spanned the late third and early fourth quarters gave the Wildcats a 50-39 lead with 4:54 to play. They fended off the Trojans from there for a 67-60 Metropolitan Conference victory.
The loss dropped Center Grove to 6-12 overall and 0-4 in MIC play, while Lawrence North improved to 12-5 and 2-2. But it appeared as though the Trojans might pull the upset until the Wildcats’ late third-quarter surge.
“The first half was the best half of basketball we’ve played all season,” Center Grove coach Zach Hahn said. “We dictated the pace offensively and defensively, made four or five ball reversals each possession. We missed open shots in the third quarter, and they grabbed a few offensive rebounds, and you can’t even have a 30-second stretch like that in this league.
“You’ll be down six points from where you were if you do.”
Center Grove hit 10 of 16 (62.5 percent) from the floor in the first half and 21 of 36 (58.3 percent) for the game. The Trojans limited Lawrence North, which started a front line that stood 6-foot-9 (Ra Kpedi), 6-7 (Kevin Easley Jr.) and 6-4 (Djimon Henson) to just three first-half rebounds.
The Wildcats, however, hit 21 of 32 from the floor (65.6 percent) overall and committed just one turnover through the first three quarters and six overall. Center Grove turned the ball over just 11 times, but six came in the third quarter, when Lawrence North outscored the Trojans 23-11.
The Wildcats also hit 20 of 22 free throws (90.9 percent).
Lawrence North named its gymnasium after Keefer, the only coach in the school’s 40-year history. Indianapolis mayor Joe Hogsett was among several local dignitaries who spoke at the ceremony, and Keefer was awarded the Sagamore of the Wabash distinction during the proceedings as well.
All of that had the veteran coach nervous about how the players would respond.
“I was scared to death of this game,” Keefer said. “There was so much going on, and Center Grove was ready to play. They shot so well, and had a good game plan.
“We just wanted to wear their legs down, and we felt like they would get tired and maybe start missing some of those threes (in the second half).”
Bryce Brown led four double-figure scorers for Center Grove with 16 points, while Bailey Barrett and Trayce Jackson-Davis each added 12, and Trevor Harrell finished with 10.
Ethan Jarrett matched Brown’s 16 to lead Lawrence North, and Henson added 14, Kpedi 12 and Antwaan Cushingberry 11.
“To say that I’m proud of these guys would be an understatement; to say I’m satisfied would be a copout,” Hahn said. “We need to play as well as we did in the first half for 32 minutes, and we did it for about 26.”
The Trojans are off until Thursday, when they host MIC rival Warren Central.