Criss Beyers wasn’t about to buy any “ugly” talk. Not any of it. A first half with 24 combined points? That’s a thing of beauty — as long as his team was in the lead.
Warren Central used a stifling first-half defensive performance and held off visiting Lawrence North for a 52-43 win Wednesday night in a Marion County tournament quarterfinal. The Warriors led 17-7 at halftime, holding the Wildcats to 2-for-16 shooting.
“I thought it was a pretty first half,” said Beyers, Warren Central’s second-year coach. “Defensively.”
Warren Central is all about defense — a major reason it is 11-0 and ranked No. 7 in the state in Class 4A. The Warriors will need all it can get on Friday night at Southport in a juicy matchup against fellow unbeaten and No. 1-ranked North Central.
“We want North Central,” said Warren Central senior Mack Smith, who scored 14 of his game-high 15 points in the second half. “We’re going to go out there and play hard like we did (Wednesday night). They beat us two times last year and we want revenge.”
North Central will face a unique challenge in Warren Central, which doesn’t have any regulars taller than 6-3. But the Warriors create all kinds of havoc with their defense.
Case in point came in the fourth quarter, as Lawrence North (9-4) was attempting to rally from a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit. The Wildcats trailed 43-37 with 1:20 left when 6-9 senior Ra Kpedi appeared to have position on the low post with a chance to cut the lead to four.
In the blink of an eye, 5-9 senior guard Allante Harper swept in behind Kpedi and snatched the ball away to effectively end any chance of a Lawrence North comeback.
“I think every game, somebody different has stepped up,” Beyers said. “Mack gets a lot of notoriety because he scores points, but look at the defensive plays tonight or the rebounds or the screens that get Mack open. Everybody has a role and everybody has accepted their role. Everybody does what they have to do for us to have success.”
Lawrence North was led by 11 points apiece from Kevin Easley and Antwaan Cushingberry. Kpedi added 10 points and six rebounds. Smith was 11-for-12 from the free-throw line to lead Warren Central, which outrebounded the taller Wildcats by six.
It was the second win in five days for Warren Central over Lawrence North, following a 63-57 victory on Friday. The Wildcats didn’t make their first field goal on Wednesday until nearly the 6-minute mark of the second quarter.
“They are a good team,” Lawrence North coach Jack Keefer said of the Warriors. “But if you shoot 12 percent, you’re going to get beat. Isn’t that the way it works?”
Warren Central hasn’t won a Marion County tournament championship in 17 years. The Warriors are halfway there after taking out Lawrence Central and Lawrence North on back-to-back nights.
“I think we’re looking forward to playing North Central,” Beyers said. “We know they are a very, very good team obviously. We’re looking forward to the challenge. That’s why you play in the (Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference) and why we play the schedule we play. We’re happy to be playing, no matter who it was.”
While Warren Central may have been a bit of a sleeper going into the season after last year’s 10-12 mark, the word is out at this point on the Warriors.
“They know,” Smith said. “They know.”
Call IndyStar reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649. Follow him on Twitter: @KyleNeddenriep.
WARREN CENTRAL 52, LAWRENCE NORTH 43
Lawrence North 2 5 12 24 — 43
Warren Central 8 9 13 22 — 52
Lawrence North (9-4) — Cushingberry 4 3-5 11, Saunders 1 2-4 4, Shouse 2 1-1 5, Kpedi 4 2-3 10, Easley 4 0-0 11, Davis 1 0-0 2, Hankins 0 0-0 0, Perkins 0 0-0 0. Totals: 16 8-13 43.
Warren Central (11-0) — Tate 3 0-0 7, Minor 1 0-0 2, Spivey 3 2-2 9, Bell 2 0-1 4, Smith 2 11-12 15, Harper 2 2-2 7, Tyler 3 1-2 8. Totals: 16 16-19 52.
3-point goals: Lawrence North 3 (Easley 3), Warren Central 4 (Tate, Spivey, Harper, Tyler).