INDIANAPOLIS – The No. 1 Lawrence North Wildcats had earned their reputation as the "Cardiac Cats," coming from behind again and again and earning three overtime victories as they opened the season with 13 straight wins.
The Wildcats tried the same script against No. 2 Homestead on Saturday, but the Spartans refused to play along, prevailing 55-50 in overtime.
The Spartans (16-0) now have wins over the current No. 1, No. 3 and No. 5 teams in the state (Lawrence North, Cathedral and Blackhawk Christian, respectively).
Homestead senior forward Grant Simmons said that getting a win over one of the top teams in the state was "one of the best feelings in the world," but he also acknowledged that the Spartans were far from perfect on Saturday, and still have plenty of room to improve.
"I felt like we didn't play that well, and we still won by five," Simmons said. "I feel like we need to learn how to handle pressure a little more, how to handle length and athleticism. And if we learn to do those things, we'll be pretty good."
The Spartans had led for all of regulation except for two brief stretches in the fourth quarter, but Lawrence North's DJ Hughes was the first to strike in overtime, giving the Wildcats a 48-46 lead. Homestead's Quinn Harmon hit one of two free throws to cut the lead to 48-47, but with 2:13 left Lawrence North's Donaven McCulley scored on a layup and the Wildcats were back up 50-47.
Soon enough, though, Simmons slipped away from his defender and found himself wide open on the 3-point line. He sank the shot to tie the game at 50.
Then senior Kaleb Kolpien, who had scored just two points in regulation, snuck right under the basket and caught a lob pass from junior guard Fletcher Loyer and scored on a layup to put Homestead up 52-50. With just over 10 seconds remaining, Loyer was fouled and he hit one of his free throws for a 53-50 lead. Kolpien then hit two free throws to finish the scoring.
Loyer led the Spartans with 27 points, including two free throws that tied the game at 46-46 and forced overtime. Simmons scored 13, and in addition to his 3-pointer in overtime he also hit a shot in the fourth quarter to retake the lead after the Wildcats briefly went up 37-36. The 6-foot-7 Hughes had 14 points and 11 rebounds, and CJ Gunn scored 13 for Lawrence North.
"They're a tough, physical team and you have to be tough, physical back," Simmons said. "I think we out physical-ed them, and that's what won us the game."
But both Simmons and Homestead coach Chris Johnson said there are things that the Spartans could do differently in another big game – if, for example, these teams meet again in the Class 4A state finals.
"These are things we need to improve upon," Johnson said, "but it always feels a lot better when you're on the winning side. Riding two hours on the bus on the way back to Fort Wayne, it'll be a fun two hours. And then we'll figure out what we need to do to improve."