Greg Oden and the Wildcats Beat Panthers 78-55 in Title Game

SOUHTPORT -- With 35 seconds left to play, Lawrence North basketball coach Jack Keefer grabbed a sledgehammer and brought it to the front of his bench to the delight of his players.

A team symbol for slamming the door shut, the sledgehammer was appropriate at the end of the Marion County Tournament title game Jan. 14.

The Class 4A No. 1 Wildcats led by just five points entering the fourth quarter but allowed only two North Central baskets the rest of the way to turn a close game into a 78-55 victory.

An estimated 5,000 people at Southport saw three of the best high school players in the country battle for the championship of a 16-team tournament that started with four state-ranked teams and two other one-loss squads and included four players headed to the Big Ten.

"Right now, the county is a hotbed of basketball," Keefer said as his players cut down the nets and dozens of fans waited behind a rope for Greg Oden's autograph. "It's a thrill when you go the road we did, and you get here."

Prior to beating Class 4A No. 6 North Central, the Wildcats defeated Ben Davis, 4A No. 3 Pike and a Franklin Central team that is 7-2 against everyone except LN. The two-time defending 4A state champion Wildcats improved to 13-0 and pushed their winning streak to 29 games. The county title is the sixth in the 30 years of LN and the second for the senior class.

"It's real big because it shows where we are as a team," senior point guard Mike Conley said. "Beating two of the best teams in the state in Pike and North Central is a big confidence booster."

The two finalists had only five days to wait for a rematch. Lawrence North plays at North Central (11-2) tonight on ESPN2.

Greg Oden, the reigning national high school Player of the Year, had 23 points and 12 rebounds, including nine offensive, and three blocked shots. He shot 8-of-10 from the field and didn't foul out, despite getting his fourth foul with 3:33 left in the third quarter. Greg Oden survived a physical battle with 6-foot-7 Adnan Hodzic, who used his bulk to try to keep Greg Oden off the block.

"It was as physical as it looked," Greg Oden said. "But I've been through it so much, so it wasn't much of a problem."

Conley, headed to Ohio State along with Greg Oden, scored 23 points and had nine rebounds and five assists. LN's big guns got considerable help from junior forward Damian Windham (15 points) and junior guard Qadar Owen (12 points). Brandon McDonald had four points, and Westley Smith added one.

Illinois-bound North Central junior Eric Gordon scored 15 of his 20 points in the first half before fouling out with 2:11 to play. Getting most of the defensive attention from LN senior guard Brandon McDonald, Gordon shot just 5-of-14, including 3-of-10 from 3-point range.

Trailing 55-50, the Panthers had the ball to start the fourth quarter. Campbell 's 3-pointer bounced out, and Conley hit an open 3-pointer on the other end to start a 14-2 run that put the game away. Greg Oden had three dunks during that span and 11 points in the fourth quarter.

With Greg Oden in foul trouble, LN played most of the fourth quarter in a zone.