Nine months ago, Northland’s Jared Sullinger sank two free throws with 2.7 seconds left to deliver the Vikings first state title. Thursday he sank two free throws with four seconds left to hand national No. 1 Findlay (NV) Prep it first loss. The final daggers were just part of a 32-point, 17-rebound performance by “Big Smooth” in front of a nationally-televised audience on ESPN.
Thursday night’s Columbus Northland/Findlay
Prep epic showdown was a flashback to the greatest moment in
Northland’s athletic history – that being last year’s Division I state
Following a Cory Joseph fall-away, that
ripped the cords to give Prep a one-point lead, Northland’s Jared
Sullinger took the inbound pass and pounded the ball the length of the
court before being fouled by the Pilots’ Tristan Thompson with four
With the Vikings in the double-bonus,
Sullinger would step to the line with a chance for Northland to tie or
take the lead. Sound familiar? Nine months earlier the “Big Smooth”
stepped to the line in the state title tilt with the game tied and a
chance to give Northland its first-ever state championship. He sank
two-of-three and the rest was history.
Fast forward nine months and things were eerily similar.
I was having flashbacks to that Princeton game,” Sullinger said. “I had
to glance over to see if it said Princeton on their jersey.”
“best” player in the country proved once again to any of his doubters
that from the East Coast to the West Coast no one is better.
calmly approached the line and sank the first freebie, knotting the
game at 52. After pumping the fist and busting out his signature smile,
the Ohio State signee hoisted the second freebie up hitting nothing but
nylon sending the 3,100-plus in the Rike Center on the campus of
Otterbein College into a complete frenzy.
A last second
half-court heave by Joseph was just off the mark giving the Vikings a
monumental 53-52 win over the No. 1 ranked Pilots. Prep had not lost a
game since the 2007-2008 campaign.
Northland also did all this without senior J.D. Weatherspoon who sat out with an injured ankle.
win – and Sullinger’s 32-point, 17-rebound peroformance – should prove
to some of the critics that Ohio is not just a football state.
The 53-52 victory was the 78th
win in Sullinger’s career, but this is arguably his biggest. The No. 4
ranked Vikings (2-0) proved worthy of a No. 1 ranking, but that is
something that is expected in the Northland locker room.
just wanted to come out and play basketball,” Sullinger stated. “We
just wanted to approach this as another game and I thought we did a
good job of that, but we were definitely excited. After seeing JD
(Weatherspoon) go down in practice, I knew we would have to come
together even more tonight. This team is not about one guy or one
player because we have a great team and I think we proved that tonight.”
Penn State commit Trey Burke echoed Sullinger’s thoughts.
man, I am just so excited right now,” said the jubilant Northland
junior point guard. “I am just so happy. I think we showed that not
only are we one of the best teams in the city and in the state, but now
in the nation. We talked about it being another game and it was, but I
am just happy to be a part of this team.”
who was playing with out Ohio State signee James “JD” Weatherspoon,
would appear to many basketball aficionados as a sizeable underdog
against the ultra-talented Pilots. However, as a member of the
Northland family once said, “anything is possible when you have Jared
on your team.”
That statement was correct as the
6-foot-9 senior completely dominated the first half allowing the
Vikings to race out to a 29-15 halftime advantage. Sullinger scored 16
points on a variety of shots including dunks, spot-ups, faders,
spinners, and floaters. The big fellow added 12 boards as well.
in the offensive numbers was the Viking defense holding the Pilots to
just 15 first half points and 26% shooting. This is a team that came in
averaging nearly 97 points per game.
Surprising? Not in
the slightest. Defense has been the calling card for the Vikings over
the past three years rarely giving up more than 60 points.
With Sullinger, it is usually one-and-done meaning the opponent usually gets one shot opportunity before he clears the glass.
Prep’s head coach Michael Peck had no answers for his team’s first half performance.
former coach of mine always said that no game is won in the first half,
but many have been lost in the first half,” Peck said.
Pilots changed their fortunes in the third quarter outscoring the
Vikings, 20-10. The team from Henderson, Nevada started to make a
conscientious effort to get the ball in the post to Texas-bound Tristan
“We wanted to get touches in the post
but not necessarily shots,” Peck relayed. “We wanted to get the ball
down low to see if they would double. We told Tristan if they do not
double then get to work, and if they do Nick (Johnson) and Jabari
(Brown) need to take the open looks.”
Thompson got his touches and went to work scoring 18 points and grabbing 12 rebounds before fouling out of the game.
Thompson was good, but the night belonged to Sullinger.
sighed a classy Peck. “He is a highly skilled big man with not only
height but width. The thing that makes Jared great is he knows where
his bread is buttered. A lot of kids his size are trying to be a
three-man, but Jared takes you on the block and just keeps beating you
The Columbus-kid finished with game-highs in points (32) and rebounds (17).
around the country have questioned whether he can do this or do that,
but when it comes down to it “Smooth” just wins. Thursday night was one
more case of Sullinger willing a team to victory regardless of
opponent. This time it just happened to be live on ESPN for the nation
to see something those in Ohio and more specifically those in Columbus
have known for quite some time. Sullinger does not lose.
Buckeye-bound senior has faced off with each and every top-notch player
in the country, and they have all fallen one-by-one. Simply put, he is
the most skilled and fundamentally sound young big man that this
country has seen in a long time.
“Oh, it is just great playing with him,” said Burke. “I have been playing with him or against him since the 3rd and 4th
grade and he is the best. With JD being out, our offensive focus was
more on getting him the ball. It seemed like every time we threw the
ball inside to him it was a bucket.”
Burke was pretty
spectacular in his own right. The junior settled his team down and got
the Vikings into the offense the entire night amidst severe full-court
heat from Prep’s Joseph. Furthermore, the underrated Burke held Joseph
to just eight points which is 12 below his average.
is one of the most underrated players in the country,” Sullinger
believes. “Without Trey Burke, there is no Jared Sullinger or JD
Weatherspoon. He is keys to the ignition.”
Peck furthered those beliefs.
is one of the most savvy point guards I have seen,” the Pilot boss
extended. “He did a great job on Cory, which is something he is not
used to. He really did a fantastic job all night of executing their
Burke finished with 10 points on the evening.
Though, the night ended in jubilation for the Vikings and their fans it had to be bitter-sweet for Weatherspoon.
was tough with the game being on ESPN and I was very excited to play
these guys,” Weatherspoon said. “I knew it was going to be okay,
because Jared told me not to worry before the game saying he has got
this. I wanted to go in the game in the third quarter, but I know that
would be a selfish move. This team needs me for more than just one
game, because we are concerned about winning our last game. So I had to
take my focus off the present and look at future games. I was left
cheering my teammates on.”
Aiding Thompson’s production
was junior Nick Johnson’s 14 points and Jabari Brown adding 10 markers.
Johnson has an offer from Ohio State among many others.
will be back in action tonight against Centennial, while Prep will
heading to the City Palms tournament. The Pilots will be back in Ohio
for the Flyin to the Hoop tournament in Kettering, Ohio to play
Cleveland Benedictine in mid-January.
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