On Saturday night, Carmel and Lawrence North, a pair of MIC schools, will face off in the boys basketball Class 4A State Championship. Both teams come into the game with just 2 losses on the season as Carmel has 25 wins and Lawrence North has 28.
This will be the third consecutive state championship appearance for the Carmel Greyhounds, as they won the latest title in 2019. “We went into this year with the mindset of making your own story,” said Carmel head coach Ryan Osborn. “It’s not about defending anything. We won that, it’s over. Now it’s about winning this one.”
For the Wildcats, it’s a chance to redeem what they felt they should’ve claimed last year. In 2019-20, Lawrence North finished #3 in the 4A AP poll and defeated the second-ranked Lawrence Central Bears on their way to a sectional title. The Wildcats were seemingly on their way to the state championship but less than a week later, the season was canceled due to COVID-19 and there was no state champion crowned.
Wildcats head coach Jack Keefer is still upset that LN didn’t have this opportunity last year, saying, “We just felt like we were playing the best ball we had played all year at the right time.” Keefer says that this year’s team is “having a lot of fun and trying to make up for maybe not getting there last year.”
Both Osborn and Keefer will be highly prepared for this moment. As aforementioned, this will be the third straight championship appearance for Osborn and the Greyhounds, as they lost to Warren Central in 2018 and defeated Ben Davis in 2019. Keefer has coached the Wildcats for 45 seasons and is an impressive 4-0 in state championship games, including winning three straight championships with Mike Conley and Greg Oden from 2004-2006.
Saturday will be the third consecutive 4A championship between MIC teams. “It’s one of the best conferences in the Midwest,” said Osborn.
“We’re the dominant conference that’s for sure,” said Keefer. “I think it’s a very good plus that we’re able to play in the conference and play against the best teams.”
On March 15, the MIC Network named its top five players in the conference. Three players in this upcoming game made the list: Carmel forward Brian Waddell, Carmel guard Pete Suder, and Lawrence North guard Shamar Avance. Suder and Avance were awarded Co-Players of the Year.
This year’s championship games are separated by an unorthodox bye week, as the semi-state games were on March 20 and the state finals are this Saturday, April 3. This is due to there being a pair of NCAA Tournament games at Bankers Life Fieldhouse this past Saturday.
Keefer believes that the bye week could be “very beneficial to the team that handles it properly,” adding that the first week went “fairly fast.”
“14 days is a long time to not play,” said Osborn. “Having that long of a break and keeping the edge is challenging and it’s something that we’re going to have to figure out.”
Carmel senior Brian Waddell figures to play a large role in the team’s success on Saturday night. In the Greyhounds’ regional final against Lafayette Jeff, Waddell hit a pair of free throws with 17 seconds remaining to give Carmel a 50-49 victory. “It’s all mindset,” said Waddell. “I’ve shot thousands of free throws in my life and these were going to be no different.”
A sprained ankle forced Waddell to miss the first meeting between these teams on February 4, yet Carmel still won 63-49. “They’re going to be ready to go,” said Waddell. “They’ve still got a bad taste in their mouth from the last time we played them.”
No matter the result of Saturday night’s game, it will be a passionate moment for Waddell in his final high school contest. “It hasn’t really hit me yet that this is the last time I’m going to wear a Carmel jersey,” said Waddell. “Winning games is great and winning all the championships is great. But I’m just going to miss the guys that I’ve been playing with all these years.”
Overall, the game should be a competitive defensive battle. Carmel is giving up just 41.6 points per game in the tournament and Lawrence North is allowing only 48.7 points per game. This will be just the second-ever tournament meeting between the squads, as LN defeated Carmel 47-22 in the 2006 regional semifinal.
“It’s rewarding to get there, now we just want to go and finish it off,” said Coach Keefer. “They’re a very good team. I think we’re a very good team. So it should be a good game.”