Midway through the fourth quarter of Wednesday's boys basketball game between Class 4A No. 9 Warren Central and 14th-ranked host Lawrence North, coach Jack Keefer began shouting the same question to his Lawrence North players on the court, over and over.
"Where's 40? Where's 40?"
The No. 40 Keefer was referring to was Warren Central forward and Indiana University recruit Devin Davis Jr. After Davis' performance in leading the Warriors to an overtime win last year, Keefer and the Wildcats made sure Davis and the Warriors wouldn't beat them this time, and Lawrence North held on for a 69-64 win.
"He beat us last year after we led the whole game," Keefer recalled. "He just took over in the overtime. I said to them, 'He did it to you once. You can't let him do it again.'"
Davis caught fire in the third quarter Wednesday after a sluggish first half by both him and the Warriors. He had just four points and Warren Central (4-4) trailed 35-28 at the break. It got uglier in the third as Warren Central fell behind 44-31, but that's when the 6-6 Davis went to work. His steal and dunk, offensive rebound and dunk and pair of free throws brought the Warriors back to 44-37. It also brought out the Wildcats' defensive focus. Davis didn't score again and finished with 10 points.
The Warriors started the game strong, grabbing a 4-0 lead, but Lawrence North (7-1) stormed back with a 13-2 run behind five Warren Central turnovers. The Wildcats used their length and athleticism to get into the Warren Central passing lanes and disrupt its offense. Warren Central finished with 26 turnovers to Lawrence North's 19.
"We just kept playing hard," said Lawrence North forward Basil Smotherman, a smooth-shooting Purdue recruit who led the Wildcats with 16 points. "All we did this week was work on defense and trying to stop them. We're long. We've got to use that to our advantage. We can't use our hands all the time, so we try to use our length."
Lawrence North opened a 62-50 lead with 3:23 left on Sean Howard's 3-pointer off an offensive rebound, but the Warriors forced a succession of turnovers to climb back in it and trailed 67-64 with 9.6 seconds left. Howard sank a pair of free throws to seal the win.
"My challenge to my team is to start the game like that," said Warren Central coach Greg Graham. "Don't spot a team a 10- to 15-point lead and then wait until the end of the game to try to turn it up. We need to have that from the beginning."
Howard finished with 15 points and DaeShon Francis added 14 for Lawrence North. Jordan Garnett led Warren Central with 17 points and Sam Thompson added 16.
Lawrence North hit its free throws when they mattered most, going 8-of-10 in the fourth quarter. Warren Central was 4-of-11.
"If we take care of the basketball and do what we're supposed to do, (nobody can) play with us," Graham said. "We've had four losses where we could easily have won if we took care of the basketball, made our free throws and played smart. Lawrence North is a good team. I'm not trying to take anything away from them, but they're not better than us. I'll go on record as saying that. We beat ourselves point blank."