Since the last of the Greg Oden and Mike Conley-led state championship teams in 2006, Lawrence North's basketball program has had some very good teams, including a group that produced 25 wins in 2008-09.
None, though, have advanced beyond the regional. Is this the year? Veteran coach Jack Keefer didn't make any bold proclamations after the visiting Wildcats knocked off Class 4A third-ranked Pike 87-83 on Tuesday night.
But Keefer, who won the 692nd game of his 41-year career, has said since the beginning of the season that he likes this team.
"Six months ago, we'd have lost a game like that," he said. "(Pike) is a veteran crew that has been to state. They're cocky, they're smiling at you when they put another three on you. We were able to just stay in there and fight through it."
Unranked Lawrence North (15-5) led by as many as 20 points in the first half, using its superior size to dominate Pike (19-3) inside. Dan Scofield, a 6-8, 235-pound senior, had 12 points and 10 rebounds in the first half alone.
Scofield fouled out in the fourth quarter, finishing with 15 points and 16 rebounds. But his 6-7 senior teammate John McCloud scored 16 of his 21 points in the second half.
"Sometimes our offense is what fuels us, and we need to have better defensive pressure to fuel us," Pike coach Bill Zych said. "They got a ton of offensive rebounds against us and we got a little impatient as they took the lead."
Pike still managed to slice Lawrence North's lead to 64-62 on a layup by Zavier Turner with 4:42 left. Lawrence North pushed the lead back to eight, but Pike took advantage of turnovers to get it back to 74-72 with 1:41 remaining.
That would be as close as the Red Devils could get, however. Daeshon Francis slashed to the basket twice for scores and the Wildcats shot 7-for-8 from the free-throw line in the final 30 seconds to put it away.
Francis, a 6-3 junior, scored 11 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter. Purdue recruit Basil Smotherman added 16 points and nine rebounds.
Lawrence North hurt itself with 20 turnovers, but beat the Pike pressure several times for layups.
"Coach Keefer wanted us to push the ball full throttle when we could," Francis said. "We were battling with them from beginning to end. Pike isn't as big so we expected (Scofield and McCloud) to get some buckets in the post and they did."
The senior guard trio of Taishaun Johnson (29 points), Turner (19) and Jordan Pickett (16) accounted for most of Pike's offense.
Lawrence North closes the regular season Friday against Terre Haute North before taking on Cathedral in the Sectional 10 first round Tuesday. Pike is done until its sectional game next week against Perry Meridian.
Zych said he wasn't concerned about the loss having any impact on next week's game. Pike lost two of its last three games last year before making a run to the state finals.
"It's just getting back to what we need to do," Zych said. "We didn't do some of things we normally do to win games."