North Central Head Coach Doug Mitchell had seen this one played out before. One team down, one team surging back, an opening round Sectional 8 classic coming down to the wire. But instead of Gary Harris Jr. hitting a half-court shot at the buzzer to send the Hamilton Southeastern Royals over the Panthers in a thrilling 86-83 victory, Mitchell found his kids glorious and victorious in the end.
“It was just kind of a flip of what happened last year,” said Mitchell. “I thought that was pretty cool. They did not stop.”
Down 13 points heading into the fourth quarter, the North Central Panthers (15-5) stormed back in improbable fashion, shocking Hamilton Southeastern (17-4) in a 78-68 victory that had no less a thrilling ending than last year’s contest. Down 66-64 with 6.5 seconds left on the clock, the Panthers found Senior center Darius Latham in the middle of the court, who spun past one defender and avoided potential Mr. Basketball Zak Irvin at the hoop, dropping the ball in at the buzzer to send the contest into overtime.
“We just tried to get me isolated at the top,” said Latham. “Just to get me to the bucket.”
Mitchell, with a big grin across his face, agreed that getting the ball to Latham was the plan all along.
“Usually you say you draw it up, but it’s not anywhere close,” said Mitchell. “But once he gets going in one direction, he is hard to stop. But I think the key to that thing was Wes Stowers driving that ball hard and making a tremendous pass right on the money and clearing his guy out so Darius can do what Darius does.”
Despite some free throw shooting woes late in the game, Hamilton Southeastern seemed to be in control from the second quarter on thanks in large part to a magnificent 29 point, 10 rebound performance from Senior Zak Irvin. But no lead proved to be too insurmountable for a young Panthers squad that saw Stowers (12 points), Eron Gordon (16 points), and Perry Poindexter (16 points, 8 rebounds) along with the Senior Latham’s 19 points that eventually chipped away at the double-digit lead.
“Those guys just don’t have no quit in them,” said Mitchell. “I don’t like being down 12, or 15, as we have to figure out a way to stop that. But they don’t think they are ever going to lose.”
Once Latham’s layup went in and the overtime period started, the Panthers held control of the extra period, seemingly getting every bounce on their way to a 12-2 run that led to the 78-68 victory.
The Panthers will face off against the Fishers’ Tigers (15-6), who in the first game of the night cruised past Westfield (8-13) with Senior Jaylon Brown leading the way with 16 points and 4 rebounds.