As Warren Central’s boys basketball program ripped off one win after another and Mack Smith piled up the points, the Warriors started to turn some heads. It looked like a potentially fun story from a program that has achieved moderate success in recent years, but hasn’t won a sectional since 2000.
Forget the fun story. These guys are the real deal.
Warren Central avenged its only loss of the season with a thorough 63-51 win at Class 4A second-ranked North Central on Friday night. Smith, the 6-2 standout senior, scored a game-high 33 points as the Warriors ended a 14-game losing streak to North Central.
“It lets us know we can beat any team in the state,” said Smith, who scored 20 of his points in the second half. “We can beat any team, period. We just have to keep playing every game like it’s our last.”
There’s truth in Smith’s words. The Class 4A sixth-ranked Warriors (13-1 overall, 4-0 Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference) play with the toughness and cohesiveness of a team that has been together for several years. While Smith is often the finisher on offense, players like sophomore David Bell, seniors Trequan Spivey and Paul Minor and junior Dean Tate, among others, also play key roles.
Warren Central pushed North Central in the Marion County tournament semifinals two weeks ago before falling, 69-65. The Panthers, after a 13-0 start, have lost three of four games since that night.
“The key for us is to make the other team play defense,” said Warren Central coach Criss Beyers. “We’d like to think they are going to make a defensive mistake before we make an offensive mistake.”
North Central, after falling behind by as many as 12 points in the first quarter, cut Warren Central’s lead to 27-24 at halftime. Both teams started hot in the second half before the Warriors put some distance between themselves and the Panthers with an 8-0 run to end the third quarter.
Bell hit a 3-pointer. Tate hit a 3-pointer. Spivey scored on a driving layup. North Central never got closer than eight points the rest of the game.
“They played extremely well,” said North Central coach Doug Mitchell. “Hats off to Warren. You can’t play much better than that. They didn’t turn it over. They didn’t take contested shots. They rebounded the ball well, and they beat us. If I was a fan, I would have been impressed. We better start doing those things or there’s more of this to come.”
North Central never seemed to find a rhythm on offense. Senior Kris Wilkes, with his future UCLA coach Steve Alford in attendance, was held to 11 points on 4-for-11 shooting. Junior D.J. Johnson was a lone offensive bright spot for the Panthers, leading the way with 15 points on 4-for-6 shooting from the 3-point line.
What’s going on with the Panthers? It’s a long season and a tough schedule. North Central has lost to Pike, Lawrence North and Warren Central, all top-10 teams in the state in the Sagarin Ratings. Mitchell said that’s part of it. The Panthers also need to clean up a few areas.
“The ball has to stop sticking, man,” he said. “(Opponents) are figuring out who to challenge. Kris has to understand that teams are going to come at him with two or three people. Same way with Emmanuel (Little). They have to learn to make people better because it’s going to continue to happen. We have to take the challenge, period. When it’s not going smooth sailing, you have to grind it out.”
North Central hosts Park Tudor on Saturday, while Warren Central is home against Crown Point. The Warriors could meet North Central for a third time in a month in sectional play.
For the first time since the 2007-08 season, the Warriors actually have proof they can beat the Panthers.
“A lot of schools know who we are now,” Smith said. “Now we’re the ones getting hunted.”
Call IndyStar reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649. Follow him on Twitter: @KyleNeddenriep.
WARREN CENTRAL 63, NORTH CENTRAL 51
Warren Central 17 10 16 20 — 63
North Central 7 17 8 19 — 51
Warren Central (13-1) — Minor 1 0-0 2, Spivey 4 0-0 10, Tate 3 0-0 8, Bell 2 0-0 5, Smith 13 6-7 33, Tyler 2 0-0 4, Harper 0 1-2 1, Hines 0 0-0 0. Totals: 25 7-9 63.
North Central (14-3) — Rivera 5 1-1 11, Johnson 0 0-0 0, Lee 0 0-0 0, Little 2 3-4 8, Wilkes 4 2-4 11, Rowe 0 0-0 0, Pack 1 0-0 3, Johnson 5 1-2 15, Bradley 1 1-2 3. Totals: 18 8-13 51.
3-point goals: Warren Central 6 (Spivey 2, Tate 2, Bell, Smith), North Central 7 (Johnson 4, Little, Wilkes, Pack).