INDIANAPOLIS — As North Central’s team returned to the court from the locker room after halftime, most took a seat on the bench and awaited instruction from coach Doug Mitchell.
Not Kris Wilkes. The North Central senior kept shooting on his own as the clock ticked down and the horn sounded to start the second half. Finally, after a misfiring on a 3-pointer, Wilkes shook his head and walked away.
“Sometimes, you have one of those nights,” the IndyStar Mr. Basketball candidate said later.
It speaks to Class 4A top-ranked North Central’s muscle that the Panthers still ran away from a strong Ben Davis team on a frozen Friday night, defeating the visiting Giants 68-57. Wilkes ended up having his moments, finishing off an 18-point night with a pair of breakaway windmill dunks.
“When I saw my shot wasn’t falling in the first half, I knew I had to change it up,” he said. “You can’t keep settling if it’s not falling. I tried to attack more, and we finished it off as a team.”
Wilkes had plenty of help from his friends, especially Emmanuel Little. The 6-5 forward continued his breakout senior season with a 23-point, 15-rebound performance. When nothing much else was going for North Central in the first half as Ben Davis built a 14-point lead, the Panthers (10-0, 2-0 Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference) could at least lean on Little.
North Central kept in striking distance at halftime, down 31-26 behind Little’s 13 points. The Panthers blitzed Ben Davis (8-3, 1-1) with a 21-6 third quarter to take control.
“Little played great again,” Mitchell said. “Wilkes got it going in the second half to get us out of that hole and (Mateo) Rivera (14 points) helped keep us in it, too. Then we had a lot of other guys step up in the second half.”
North Central was without a starter as junior guard D.J. Johnson, a Division I football recruit, takes part in the U.S. Army All-American combine in San Antonio on Saturday. The Panthers missed Johnson’s defensive energy, but Mitchell pointed to contributions from Donald Lee, Caleb Pack, Michael Rogers and Ty’Riek Johnson as keys to Friday’s win.
“We played a really good second half, like we always do,” Little said. “At first they were beating us at our own game. We couldn’t let that happen in the second half.”
Ben Davis (8-3, 1-1) was led by Josh Brewer’s 13 points. Aaron Henry, a 6-5 junior, was matched with Wilkes much of the night and finished with 10 points and 13 rebounds.
The Giants appeared to be in good position going into the third quarter, but managed just one field goal over the next eight minutes. Ben Davis trailed by as many as 14 points before cutting it to 61-54 on a 3-pointer by Brewer with 2:25 left but could get no closer.
Wilkes’ two dunks provided the exclamation points.
“I thought we were pretty focused on the first half, but we turned it over a couple times in the third and we couldn’t get it back after that,” Ben Davis coach Mark James said. “I thought (North Central) made more of an effort to get Wilkes and Little the ball in the second half. We were able to adjust.”
There is a possibility the teams could meet for the second time in five days if both win first-round games in the Marion County tournament on Tuesday. Ben Davis hosts Brebeuf Jesuit, a team it defeated 56-52 this past week, while North Central hosts Southport.
James dismissed any talk of a rematch.
“You can’t do that,” he said. “Brebeuf is a good team, and we have a lot of things to work on.”
North Central also was undefeated going into the Marion County tournament last year, then lost 70-48 to Southport in the first round.
“These guys like to compete and the Marion County tournament is one of the granddaddies of them all,” Mitchell said. “I know they are looking forward to it.”
Call IndyStar reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649. Follow him on Twitter: @KyleNeddenriep.
NORTH CENTRAL 68, BEN DAVIS 57
Ben Davis 19 12 6 20 — 57
North Central 11 15 21 21 — 68
Ben Davis (8-3) — Brewer 4 1-2 13, Newsom 4 0-0 11, Harper 4 0-0 10, Henry 3 3-3 10, Finch 3 1-2 7, Bush 1 2-4 4, Turner 0 2-2 2. Totals: 19 9-13 57.
North Central (10-0) — Little 7 7-9 23, Wilkes 7 4-8 18, Rivera 5 0-0 14, Lee 2 2-3 6, Pack 1 0-0 3, Rogers 1 0-0 2, T.Johnson 1 0-2 2. Totals: 24 13-24 68.
3-point goals: Ben Davis 10 (Brewer 4, Newsom 3, Harper 2, Henry), North Central 7 (Rivera 4, Little 2, Pack).