CARMEL — The play called for two options. But as Mateo Rivera stood out of bounds under the basket with 1.5 seconds left and the game tied, the North Central junior guard realized only one would work.
Kris Wilkes, North Central’s 6-7 junior star, was covered.
“Antonio Singleton was the second option,” Rivera said. “And when I saw him cutting down the lane, I just gave it to him.”
Singleton did the rest, laying in the game-winning basket at the buzzer, as visiting Class 4A No. 1 North Central knocked off No. 8 Carmel 48-46 in a thrilling finish Friday night. Singleton, a 6-5 senior, finished with a game-high 19 points off the bench for the Panthers.
Just as Rivera took the ball from the official, his eyes locked with Singleton.
“You could see the lane was going to be open,” Rivera said. “They were overplaying on Kris. Antonio was the second option, and he finished it. He wanted the ‘oop,’ but I had to make sure I made the right play in that moment.”
The buzzer-beater capped an odd finish, at least by North Central standards. The Panthers normally prefer an uptempo pace, but coach Doug Mitchell decided to play for one shot after Carmel’s Trenton Richardson tied it at 46 on a lefty post move with 1:57 left.
“I didn’t want to do it,” Mitchell said of running the clock down. “We seemed to be a little confused, though. So I thought, ‘What the heck?’ Because you know if you give them the ball with 50 seconds left, you know what they are going to do. So it was a little taste of their own medicine.”
Rivera dribbled the ball near midcourt until Mitchell called timeout with 22 seconds left.
“I was just trying not to make a mistake,” Rivera said.
North Central (4-0 overall, 1-0 Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference) caught a break when Delvon Hunt’s errant 3-pointer went out of bounds off a Carmel player. Mitchell called timeout with 1.5 seconds left to set up the final sequence.
“I knew they were going to be locked up on me hard,” Wilkes said. “I was just going to try to distract them and leave (Singleton) wide open.”
Carmel coach Scott Heady said the last play “was miscommunicated.”
“That’s a little disappointing,” he said. “We came out of the timeout expecting that we’d get to overtime.”
The lead seesawed back and forth in the second half after Carmel took a 30-24 advantage at halftime. Wilkes was held to 11 points, but North Central helped itself with 12 offensive rebounds.
Junior guard Sterling Brown led Carmel with 15 points and Richardson, a 6-8 senior, added nine points and four rebounds.
“(North Central) only got the ball in the lane on penetration one time all night,” Heady said. “If you tell me that’s going to happen, I’d say our chances are pretty good. But give them credit. They made a couple runs, and they made a play at the end.”
North Central was playing without 6-5 junior Emmanuel Little, who Mitchell said was sitting for a team violation and would be back after the weekend.
After winning three games by an average of 52 points, the Panthers figured to be pushed this weekend with games against Carmel and Hamilton Southeastern.
“We can do better,” Mitchell said. “We have a lot we can learn from. In the second half, we moved Kris inside, and he got some touches. We defended better. No, I don’t like scoring 48 points. But when they limit possessions by passing the ball 10 or 15 times a possession, that’s what you’ll get. You just have to make sure you get better shots, and I thought we did.”
Especially the last one.
Call Star reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649. Follow him on Twitter: @KyleNeddenriep.