GREENWOOD — It took a little adjustment for Ajanae’ Thomas to not feel like she always needed to be the one scoring when she came to North Central. But now, she does not feel like she needs to worry when the ball isn’t in her hands.
The reason was on full display when the Class 4A No. 1 Panthers (19-0) flexed their offensive depth and cruised to a 70-44 victory over host Center Grove (13-4) on Thursday night with just three games left in the regular season.
One of the biggest reasons — a reason that drew Big Ten scouts from Illinois and Indiana — was 5-10 sophomore Rikki Harris, who might just be the area’s most dangerous guard in her class.
“My teammates are encouraging me to shoot more,” Harris said after scoring 25 points despite a right ankle tweak. “I’m shooting 3s more, too. And they don’t let me get down on myself when I miss one.”
For a majority of the second half, Harris couldn’t seem to miss — and she almost didn’t, hitting seven of her eight shots from the field and all four of her free throws. On the opposite end, she stayed just as ferocious, diving for loose balls and ending up in jump-ball scrums several times.
Harris, who wore a boot on the sideline and after the game, likely caught Center Grove by surprise. She said Trojans players were asking her how she was doing prior to the game, which she guessed meant they were trying to assess whether she would be a threat.
And while Harris was quite the star — finished 10-of-15 from the field — the Panthers would still have edged the Trojans if you take away her output.
Thomas scored 13 points and helped the Panthers recover from a small second-quarter deficit after Center Grove knocked down five of its first seven shots. She went 5-for-6 with 11 points while the Panthers took off on a 20-2 run before halftime.
Junior guard Ajah Stallings added another 15 points, driving to the hoop often and finishing 7-of-13 from the field.
“When you’re preparing to play us, it’s like, ‘Who do you prepare to stop?’” North Central coach DeeAnn Ramey said. “Because if you stop Rikki, someone else is going to make the shot. If you stop (Stallings), somebody else is going to be on. Each one of these girls has been our high scorer at one game or another.”
Meanwhile, Panthers junior guard Taylor Ramey clamped down on Trojans junior Cassidy Hardin and held her to just 1-of-7 from the field, scoring her only 3-pointer in the first half. Senior Emma Lemasters was the lone Trojans player to make more than two shots and had 10 points.
“I think our toughest opponent is going to be us,” said Ramey, whose team also started slowly last week in a scare against Ben Davis. “If we don’t beat us, it’s going to be hard.”
Follow IndyStar reporter Jordan J. Wilson on Twitter: @Wilsonable07.
NORTH CENTRAL 70, CENTER GROVE 44
North Central — Rikki Harris 10-15 4-4 25, Taylor Ramey 2-8 1-2 5, Ajah Stallings 7-13 1-1 15, Andrea Robertson 3-3 0-1 6, Ajanae’ Thomas 6-11 0-1 13, Dajanae Brockington 0-0 2-2 2, No. 44 2-3 0-0 4.
Center Grove — Madelyn Bitterling 2-5 1-4 5, Ella Thompson 2-3 1-3 7, Cassidy Hardin 1-7 0-0 3, Emma Lemasters 4-6 2-3 10, Emma Utterback 2-4 2-2 6, Allison Utterback 2-5 3-3 8, Val Clark 1-2 1-2 3, Claire Contos 1-1 0-0 2, Amy Davis 0-1 0-0 0, Karinna Frankel 0-1 0-0 0.