Leading by nine points with 5 minutes to play Friday night, it appeared Lawrence North was well on its way to handing longtime basketball coach Jack Keefer his 700th career victory.
But Keefer’s moment was thwarted when host North Central went on a last-minute surge to pull away for a thrilling 56-52 Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference win.
In the process, the Panthers gave their coach, Doug Mitchell, a milestone of his own — his 350th career win, all with North Central.
“He’s been doing it a long time,” Mitchell said of Keefer after the game. “He’s been there 42 years; I’ve been here 21. If we divided our wins, the two of us would be banging our heads. I didn’t know about it (350 wins) until someone emailed me about it. I got a chuckle about it.”
Keefer will get another crack at becoming only the sixth Indiana coach to reach 700 victories tonight at Pendleton Heights.
The Panthers (6-6, 2-3 MIC) certainly made Mitchell’s 350th win something he’ll remember. Trailing 49-40, North Central turned the game around with a 14-1 run to grab a 54-50 lead with 30 seconds to play.
Cruical to the comeback was junior reserve guard Wes Stovers, who was 4-of-4 from the free throw line — his only points of the game — in the final 32 seconds. His two free throws with 16 seconds remaining iced it.
“Wes has been like that ever since he was little,” said sophomore guard Eron Gordon, who paced the Panthers with 15 points. “He’s got a killer instinct.”
The Wildcats (6-6, 1-3) were hampered by 22 turnovers and committed 21 fouls. Senior guard Terell Davis and senior forward D’Tavian Walker both fouled out late.
“For some reason, we started fouling early,” Keefer said. “We played tight, and I’m not sure why.”
The Wildcats fared well from the field, shooting 58 percent (21-of-36) but committed several untimely turnovers that led to points for the Panthers. North Central finished 18-of-49 (37 percent) and 5-of-20 from 3-point range, but used a strong defensive effort that limited Lawrence North to just eight points and seven turnovers in the fourth quarter.
“We went to the press more,” Mitchell said of the final quarter. “From a technical standpoint, I think we started making sure we got the ball to Gordon, and he made some good decisions. But they hung together as a team and found a way to persevere.”
Gordon scored six in the first quarter as the score was tied 14-all going into the second. North Central led by two at halftime before Lawrence North used a 20-13 third-quarter edge to take a 44-39 lead into the fourth.
Senior forward Michael Loggan, who finished with 12, cut the Wildcats’ lead to 49-45 on a 3 with 4:20 to play. He gave his team the lead for good, 51-50 on a short jumper with 2 minutes to play. In the final 1:05, the Wildcats had a turnovers and a couple of key misses.
“Our coach always says stay together,” Loggan said. “Defensively we were strong and that allowed us to get back in it.”
“We got a few good shots and kept cutting the lead down until it was three,” Gordon said.
Davis led Lawrence North with 13 points. Daeshon Francis added nine.
The Panthers travel to Muncie Central tonight.