Instant Classic: Columbus Northland survives Princeton for Division I title


Northland’s Jared Sullinger hit two free throwa with two seconds left to win the D-I state title. (Photo by Gary Housteau)

A year after watching his team lose with him on the bench, Northland star and 2009 Ohio Mr. Basketball
Jared Sullinger delivered in the clutch Saturday, draining two free throws with
2.7 seconds left to lift the Vikings past Princeton 60-58 in a clash
of Ohio goliaths at the Schottenstein Center. What a game.

COLUMBUS – No matter how Saturday’s Division I boys basketball state final finished the ending was going to be storybook. Turns out it’s Northland that gets to live happily ever after.

A year after watching his team lose with him on the bench, Northland star and 2009 Ohio Mr. Basketball Jared Sullinger delivered in the clutch, draining two free throws with 2.7 seconds left to lift the Vikings past Princeton 60-58 in a clash of Ohio goliaths and nationally-ranked teams before 12,104 at Ohio State’s Schottenstein Center.

Northland, the No. 16 team in the USA Today Super 25 and No. 1 team in the state poll, finishes the season 27-1, while Princeton, ranked No. 15 by USA Today and No. 2 in the state, wraps its season at 25-2.

Neither team disappointed in primetime

“Our goal from Day One was to win the last game of the season and we did it,” exhausted Northland head coach Satch Sullinger said. “It feels good but I know it’s going to feel better once I calm down and get home and it really hits me. When we get back to school and to the community it’s going to be awesome.”

“For whatever reason it just wasn’t meant to be,” Princeton head coach Josh Andrews said. “Our guys fought for 32 minutes like champions. I hate to see the game settled like that, but we coach champions at Princeton and these guys are fighters. It was an honor to be here in this atmosphere.”

Princeton led once at 1-0, but a free throw by Orlando Williams with 14 seconds left knotted the score 58-58. Northland got the ball across the timeline and set up the decisive play.

It went to Sullinger.

“I knew at the end of the game I was going to get the ball,” Sullinger said. “I went over there and said ‘Fellas give me the ball. I’ll get it done for us.’”

Off the inbounds at halfcourt Sullinger took the ball down the lane  and was fouled on an off-balanced 3-pointer with 2.7 seconds left.

He hit the first two free throws and Princeton’s Hail Mary after the ensuing miss came up short.

Mayhem ensued.

“We expected it would go to Sullinger,” Andrews said. “I didn’t think he’d be shooting a wild 3 and get a foul called, but sometimes that’s the way it goes.”

“He said he wanted the ball and I gave him the ball,” Satch Sullinger said. “I mean at that point, the mismatch with him being a big and whether or not he could shoot off the dribble or make a decision with the pass? I mean why not him?

“At the end of the end of the game you put the ball in the hands of your best player whether it’s your son or not.”

The win was sweet for Northland, and especially its star.

In leading the Vikings to just the second title by a Columbus City League school since Walnut Ridge in 1971 (Brookhaven won the D-I title in 2002), Sullinger, a 6-foot-9, 255-pound specimen, lifted an immense weight off his shoulders.

Strongly regarded as the No. 1 high school player in the country for the Class of 2010, Sullinger was sat out of last year’s district semifinals against Westerville South due to a self-imposed sentence for sloppy schoolwork by his father. The Vikings, ranked No. 2 in the state, were upset and sent home.

The burden has at times been nearly unbearable.

“I told the seniors tonight that we are going to win this game no matter what,” Sullinger said. “I said I don’t care how we have to do it or how ugly it is, we’re going to win.

“(Redemption) takes a whole lot of pressure off my back. I know I’m not a bust.”

Sullinger, who is headed to Ohio State, ended with 15 points and game-highs in rebounds (12) and blocks (three).

Xavier recruit and Northland junior J.D. Weatherspoon scored a team-high 18 points to go with seven boards and several crowd-pleasing dunks. Freshman phenom Jordan Potts played a huge role, scoring nine points and grabbing six boards when called into duty early with Weatherspoon sidelined by foul trouble. Sophomore point guard Trey Burke went 3-for-4 from the free throw line late and scored eight points to go along with a team-high four assists.

Princeton’s effort was just as impressive.

Playing all season long for former head coach Bill Brewer who passed away due to a heart attack one week before the start of the 2007-08 season, Princeton almost authored its own amazing ending.

With chants of “Brewer” and “It’s for Brewer” rattling the arena from the Princeton student section, Princeton overcame a 10-point fourth quarter deficit after a chippy third quarter which saw them whistled for nine fouls to Northland’s three. Andrews, just 26 years old, was given a technical with 25 seconds to go in the period for defending his players. Andrews pointed to the scoreboard and yelled at the referee “that’s wrong sir!” One of Northland’s two fouls came with five seconds left in the stanza. The Vikings led 40-30 heading into the fourth quarter.

Down 57-51 with 49 seconds left, Princeton staged a furious rally.

Following two free throws from junior Jordan Sibert, Princeton forced a five second call on the ensuing inbounds and got the ball back. Williams proceeded to hit a 3-pointer three seconds later.

After a Burke free throw, Williams was fouled on a 3-pointer and hit two of three free throws.

Sullinger’s dramatics ensued.

Sibert, another Ohio State recruit, scored a game-high 21 points for Princeton, while Williams, who is headed to Miami (Oh.), added 19 points and 10 rebounds.

Defensively Princeton forced 14 Northland turnovers and scored 18 points off of them.

They just needed one more.

“These guys have kept their poise all year,” Andrews said. “We’ve been behind in a handful of games but they’ve shown great character and maturity to get to this level.

“If that game lasts 30 more seconds I think we win it.”

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