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‘They never wavered’: Carmel outlasts Lawrence North in overtime in Class 4A state finals

Kyle Neddenriep, Indianapolis Star

Photos by Doug McSchooler, Indianapolis Star

Call ‘em the champs — again.
In a Class 4A state championship game that felt like a backyard, neighborhood slugfest between Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference rivals on Saturday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, No. 2 Carmel emerged with a 51-46 overtime victory over rival and third-ranked Lawrence North.

It was the second state title in as many chances for Carmel, which won the 4A title in 2019. Last year, with a young team, the Greyhounds won a sectional title before the pandemic shut down the season.

Senior Brian Waddell led Carmel with 20 points and 10 rebounds and junior Josh Whack added 11 points and five rebounds.

“I’m proud of these guys,” Carmel coach Ryan Osborn said. “It was a couple years in the making. They never wavered. The growth we’ve seen out of this group is amazing. Through  every challenge, through tough games, they always rise to the occasion. (Lawrence North) is a great team. They are very talented. They played hard. It was a battle through regulation and into overtime.”

Carmel defeats Lawrence North 51-46 in overtime to win 4A state title at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Saturday, April 2, 2021.

It was a battle. Lawrence North (28-3), after trailing most of the way, started the fourth quarter on a 7-0 run to take a 34-32 lead. Carmel went back on top, 36-34, on a corner 3-pointer by Brian Waddell with 3:25 left in regulation. Lawrence North tied it twice, the last time on two free throws by C.J. Gunn with 29.3 seconds left in regulation to make it 38-38.

Carmel (26-2) had the ball out of bounds in front of its bench with 0.3 seconds left, but a lob pass was intercepted by Lawrence North’s Donaven McCulley.

In overtime, Whack came up big from the free-throw line. Whack was 7-for-8 down the stretch — all of them coming in the fourth quarter or overtime.

“He’s shooting over 80 percent for the year,” Osborn said. “It’s a mental toughness thing. You can credit his defense in the same manner. He defends. Mentally he’s just kind of locked in. He wanted to be on the free-throw line down the stretch and he made some big ones.”

Whack staked Carmel to a 47-43 lead with 38.7 seconds left in overtime. Seconds later, Gunn drained a 3-pointer to bring the Wildcats within a point, 47-46. But Waddell was then fouled and made two free throws and Gunn came up empty on his 3-point attempt on the next possession and Whack sealed it with two more free throws.

“I think we certainly gave you your money’s worth,” said Lawrence North coach Jack Keefer, who led Lawrence North to its first state finals appearance since 2006. “It was certainly an exciting game. It was down to a certain call, a certain play, a certain dive. The calls could have gone either way or the ball bounces another way and we’d be state champs. We just didn’t quite get over that little hump at the very end.”

Gunn, the Indiana recruit, led Lawrence North with 18 points. D.J. Hughes added 12 points and Donaven McCulley had 11. Hughes and McCulley did their damage inside as the Wildcats made it a priority to pound the ball into the paint, outscoring Carmel 32-16 from there.

But free throws burned the Wildcats. Carmel was 20-for-25 from the line. Lawrence North was 6-for-17.

“Ouch,” Keefer said. “That’s very bad. That hurts. That’s enough to get you beat right there.”

Gioia played another solid game for Carmel, finishing with nine points and a crucial 3-pointer in overtime. The senior, who won the Trester Mental Attitude for Class 4A, was playing his best basketball at the end of the season.

“I just had the opportunity to make some big-time plays and hit shots,” Gioia said. “I was able to step up. It’s a credit to these guys, especially tonight. They were making drives and I just had to move without the ball and they were able to find me.”

Carmel will lose seniors like Waddell, Gioia and reserves Bryce Beery, Wil Leary and Nick Frische to graduation. But with Junior All-Stars Pete Suder and Charlie Williams returning, along with Whack and sophomore Sam Orme as a core, it’s fair to wonder if the Greyhounds might be back in Bankers Life Fieldhouse again at the end of next season.

But one at a time, Osborn said.

“They are going to remember this for the rest of their lives,” Osborn said. “Especially with everything they have been through the past two years. I’m proud of them and I’m excited for them.”

Call Star reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.

CARMEL 51, LAWRENCE NORTH 46, OT

Carmel 11 12 9 6 13 — 51

Lawrence North 8 14 5 11 8 — 46

Carmel (26-2) — Connor Gioia 3-8 0-1 9, Josh Whack 2-4 7-8 11, Peter Suder 3-6 0-0 6, Brian Waddell 5-10 8-8 20, Charlie Williams 0-3 5-8 5, Nick Frische 0-2 0-0 0. Team: 13-33 20-25 51.

Lawrence North (28-3) — Kayden Beatty 1-5 0-0 2, CJ Gunn 6-18 4-4 18, Shamar Avance 1-6 1-4 3, DJ Hughes 6-11 0-5 12, Donaven McCulley 5-5 1-4 11, David Batie 0-1 0-0 0. Team: 19-46 6-17 46.

3-pointers — Carmel 5 (Gioia 3, Waddell 2). Lawrence North 2 (Gunn 2).