As if being regarded as the nation’s top prep player in his class and
playing for the state’s most brightly marked team isn’t pressure
enough, Columbus Northland junior Jared Sullinger went into this season
intent on leading the Vikings to the state final four. Saturday he
attained that goal – barely.
As if being regarded as the nation’s top prep player in his class and playing for the state’s most brightly marked team isn’t pressure enough, Columbus Northland junior Jared Sullinger went into this season intent on leading the Vikings to the state final four.
That mission is now accomplished, although it took overtime and a palpitating Saturday night regional final with Dublin Scioto at the Ohio State Fairgrounds Coliseum for Northland to move onward. The Vikings held on for a 54-53 win.
“It was a slugfest,” said Northland coach Satch Sullinger, who also happens to be Jared’s father. “That’s two great teams, man. That was really a great battle. Our strengths were in different areas – their strengths were on the perimeter and ours were inside. It goes back to what I was saying when we were playing Thursday: I feel that jump shots disappear late in the game when you keep working.”
Northland (25-1) came from behind for the second time in three days at The Barn, rallying from a deficit that reached nine points (34-25) at one juncture. Scioto’s Bradley McDougald, who logged a career-high 32 points, tied the game with a three with 6.8 seconds left in regulation.
Coach Sullinger told his players to foul when the Irish (24-2) crossed half court, but to no avail.
“We forgot that and gave them a look,” he said. “But I’m playing at that time with a sophomore and a freshman in the backcourt, so the future’s bright here and I think they grew up.”
One of those young players, sophomore point guard Trey Burke, pushed ahead in search of one more shot. The ball somehow ended up in the hands of the 6-8, 245-pound Sullinger about 35 feet from the basket and he launched a three that was on line but clanged just short at the buzzer.
“I thought it was good,” said Jared, a leading candidate for “Mr. Basketball,” when The Associated Press announces that honoree on Wednesday. “I fell (down) like, ‘Oh, it’s going to be good.’ It hit front of the rim. A whole bunch of things were going through my mind. But one thing when we came out of that huddle was I let the team down last year with my grades and I wasn’t going to let them down again. I told them, I said, ‘Overtime. I’m taking over.’ I said that to the four seniors. I was not going to let them down this year. I told them, ‘We’re going to make it to the Schott one more time.”
Sullinger was referring to the 2008 postseason when his father sat him out of a district semifinal with Westerville South because he had fallen behind on some class assignments. Northland lost the game, ending an undefeated season and dreams of the Division I state title.
This time, though, young Sullinger was on the court making key plays and willing his team to victory.
Junior forward J.D Weatherspoon scored the first basket of the extra four-minute session with a driving finger roll while fouled, but missed the free throw. Sullinger ripped down a defensive rebound on the next possession and then tapped in his own miss on the other end after receiving a lobbed inbounds pass on the baseline and spinning to the hoop.
Scioto missed another quick shot that Sullinger rebounded and the Irish fouled Burke, who hit a pair of free throws to up the lead to 51-45 with 31.1 seconds left in OT.
However, McDougald, a former OSU football commitment who now is promised to Kansas, splashed a three to cut the lead in half at 51-48. Burke split a pair of free throws with 19.9 seconds to play and McDougald struck from deep again with 12 ticks left to make it 52-51.
The 5-9 Burke, who is on the Ohio State recruiting radar, made two more free throws with 5.5 seconds left to bring the lead back to three. He finished with 15 points and was a clutch 7 of 8 at the charity stripe.
McDougald stormed up court with one more chance but back-rimmed his long three-point attempt. Scioto tipped the ball in at the buzzer but still ended up a point short.
The Vikings embraced on the court and danced around after shaking hands. Satch, who couldn’t even sit at the end of regulation, blew a big sigh of relief and then joined in the hug-a-thon.
“It’s going to hit me tonight when I calm down,” he said. “I’m so wound up, but let me tell you it’s a good feeling, man. I almost had tears in my eyes out there. I’m so happy for these kids.”
Earlier in the day, Jared and older brother Julian had fun with their dad by taking his glasses off the night stand in the bedroom and impersonating him removing them and then crying tears of joy. That joke basically became reality hours later thanks in large part to the man-sized performance of young Jared, who finished with 17 points and 20 rebounds, much of the damage coming late in regulation and in overtime.
“When it’s the fourth quarter I feel like players come to play, and I feel like I’m one of those players and I just get like a demon,” he said. “My eyes get real low, I get this little mean face and all of a sudden you’ll see me yelling at people. At home, I’m like the softest 6-9 dude you ever met in your life. I don’t know. It’s my alter ego.”
Satch said he’d like to see some of the pressure lift off his team now that it will be playing next week in the Schottenstein Center in Columbus.
“When you’re favored from the very first day of practice and the closer you get and getting out of the regional, this was it,” he said. “We were swimming in waters with sharks and I had to convince them they weren’t man-eating sharks and that we would be OK. These kids, we haven’t been there before. You can’t say that now; we’re there. The message I’m going to give to them now is it’s time to go and have some fun. Let’s just do what we do.
“And that’s what I wrote on the board today – I always have three points – and the three points I wrote on the board were, one, do what we do, number two was do what we do again, and number three was close out the game. That was it. It’s too late to invent anything new.”
Northland advanced to play Warren Harding in the first Division I state semifinal at 5:15 p.m. on Friday.
“It’s going to be a wonderful experience, but just going back is not satisfying me or the team,” Jared said. “We want to win.”
Warren Harding (22-3) features 6-5 guard Desmar Jackson, one of the top seniors in the state. Jackson scored all 26 of his points in the second half and overtime of a regional semifinal win over Lakewood St. Edward earlier in the week. On Saturday night he logged 23 points and eight boards in the 53-38 win over North Ridgeville.
Cincinnati Princeton advanced to the states earlier in the day with a 64-60 win over Cincinnati LaSalle. Princeton, which features 6-4 junior guard Jordan Sibert, will match up with Toledo St. John’s in the other semi.
Sibert is a fellow OSU commitment and close friend of Jared. When Jared was asked if he had a message for his AAU teammate he said, “See you in Columbus, and I love you, little bro.”