'Stink' and the Wildcats get better of Lawrence Township rivalry in front of packed house

Jack Keefer returned to watch a game Wednesday night at Lawrence North for the first time since retiring at the end of last season after 46 years as the school’s only basketball coach.

“It’s fun because I still know the players,” said Keefer, who sat with his wife Jan behind the scorer’s table on the Lawrence North side for the annual rivalry game against Lawrence Central in the gym named for him.

One of those players, sophomore Azavier Robinson, played a starring role in Lawrence North’s 73-64 win over Lawrence Central. The 6-1 guard, known as “Stink” since he was a child, scored 15 points in the first quarter and finished with 28 points, 15 rebounds and four assists as the Wildcats (2-1) won in coach Chris Giffin’s first game as coach in the rivalry.

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“It’s still kind of surreal,” said Giffin, who coached under Keefer as an assistant and was the girls coach at the school prior to replacing Keefer. “I don’t even spend any time in this (coaches’) office because it still feels like his office. I mean that. But I’m adjusting. I love our guys and some of the pieces we have. It’s a good group of guys and I’m enjoying every minute of it so far.”

Wednesday’s game in front of a packed house and festive crowd was uptempo from the jump. Robinson was able to attack the basket with success in the first quarter, scoring 15 points as Lawrence North jumped out to a 20-15 lead. The Bears (2-2), coming off a 28-point loss to Carmel five days earlier, were up for the battle, though. The lead seesawed back and forth for the second and third quarter, Lawrence Central clinging to a 49-48 lead going into the fourth quarter.

But that is where Robinson shined again, starting an 8-0 run on a drive-and-kick to junior Myles Baker for a corner 3-pointer. The Bears pulled within 61-59 with 3:45 left, but Baker drained another 3 to start a 7-0 run and help Lawrence North put the game away.

“We want to play fast and play with pace and spread the floor,” Giffin said. “I feel like we have guys who can make shots around Robinson and (Kobi) Bowles. If you are able to play penetrate-and-pitch basketball, you make the game easy. We didn’t always make the right reads and right kicks, but hopefully we can improve on that.”

The Wildcats shot 10-for-16 from the 3-point line, including a 3-for-4 performance from Robinson and Baker (11 points). Davion Hampton, a 6-2 sophomore, was 2-for-2 from 3 and finished with 12 points. The Wildcats are not a big team, especially after 6-10 senior David Meriwether was ruled ineligible after his transfer from Metropolitan.

“We’re a team that is going to have to make the extra pass,” Giffin said. “We’re going to have to do things to free up shooters.”

That is where having a player like Robinson is helpful. Driving to the basket with aggression is the name of the game for “Stink.”

“My first time being in this game last year, it kind of sped me up,” he said. “This year, I already knew what to expect. I feel like I have to be an example for my team, especially in a game like this. I knew it was going to be a tight game all the way through so I had to keep pushing.”

It is a relatively young Lawrence North team after the graduation of players like Indiana All-Star CJ Gunn, Omar Cooper and Danny Royster. Mase Hughes, who finished with six points and eight rebounds is the only senior who played major minutes Wednesday.

But in Robinson and the junior Bowles, who finished seven points and three assists, the Wildcats have an experienced backcourt and now some momentum after a two-point loss to Southport.

“We were coming off a tough loss so this is definitely going to help us get back on track,” Robinson said.

Lawrence Central was led by senior guard Da’John Craig’s 22 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. Bryson Luter added 14 points and freshman Albert Gooden III, coach Al Gooden’s grandson, had 12 points and six rebounds on 5-for-5 shooting from the field.

“I like this team,” Al Gooden said. “I like how they compete. We had a tough year last year (6-16) and the Carmel game was lopsided, but we had some things in there where we competed. They are doing some things and that’s what we’re trying to build on. I named one negative thing with them tonight and four or five positive things.”

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

Lawrence Central 15 14 20 15 - 64

Lawrence North 20 11 17 25 - 73

Lawrence Central (2-2) – Luter 14, Craig 22, Watts 6, Franklin 4, Russell 6, Gooden 12.

Lawrence North (2-1) – Hampton 12, Bowles 7, Good 9, Baker 11, Robinson 28, Hughes 6

3-pointers: Lawrence Central 4 (Craig 3, Luter), Lawrence North 10 (Baker 3, Robinson 3, Hampton 2, Good, Hughes)

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: IHSAA basketball: Azavier Robinson leads Lawrence North past Central