Northland defeated Walnut Ridge 66-55 Saturday to claim its
sixth straight Columbus City League crown. The sold-out East High
gymnasium crowd witnessed 11 blocked shots, six slam dunks, 10 lead
changes, and a bunch of kids leaving everything out on the floor…READ MORE
“Pressure? Enormous pressure. The community, the school, people expect us to continue the run. I didn’t want to be ‘that’ guy to let things fall apart. Taking over a dynasty, there is always pressure. I felt it. Our seniors felt it…Some people said we couldn’t do it without Jared (Sullinger), can’t do it without Trey (Burke). Well, these four seniors proved everybody wrong.” First-year Northland coach Sean Taylor
No. 1 Northland beats No. 2 Walnut Ridge 66-55
When a Columbus City League Championship game plays out, Northland rises to the occasion.
When Northland rises to the occasion, opponents get flustered and frustration kicks in.
When opponents get flustered and frustration kicks in, turnovers, blocked shots, and air balls ensue.
When turnovers, blocked shots, and air balls ensue, Northland wins another city league championship.
Don’t play Northland in the city league championship…
The dynasty continues onward.
Northland defeated Walnut Ridge 66-55 Saturday afternoon to claim its sixth straight Columbus City League crown. The sold-out East High gymnasium crowd witnessed 11 blocked shots, six slam dunks, 10 lead changes, and a bunch of kids leaving everything out on the floor, including blood, sweat, and floor burns.
And bookend post players Devon Scott and Jalen Robinson were determined not to be “that” team unable to keep the streak, the dynasty alive. Scott was dominant with 23 points, seven rebounds, three blocks, and two assists. Robinson was marvelous with 14 points, 11 rebounds, and three blocked shots.
Walnut Ridge coach Jason Bates said, “We didn’t look like us today. I’m sure other teams that play them don’t look like themselves. Northland is a great team. They are ranked number one for a reason.”
Since the inception of city league championship games in 1979, the Vikings have collected eight titles, second only to Brookhaven’s nine trophies.
The first quarter was a race to the finish as Walnut Ridge bolted to a 20-18 margin. Six players from each team added to the frenzy with points. Scott paced the Vikings with seven points and Roy Alexander led the way for Walnut Ridge with five points.
The Scots led 4-0 on a Fred Hardgrove pull-up 12-footer and a slashing driving layup by Adam McCall. Robinson and Scott retaliated with powerful inside buckets to even it.
Alexander stroked a three from the corner for a 7-6 Ridge lead, but Robinson threw down a two-handed slam to give Northland an 8-7 advantage.
Alassane Kah went ballistic with four quick points inside and Ridge led 11-10. Northland answered with an 8-4 spurt to claim an 18-15 lead. But like all season, Isaiah Brooks came off the bench and drained a three from the corner and then Grant Harris timed the steal and took it to the rack to end the quarter.
There were three blocks, two dunks, 10 personal fouls, seven lead changes, two ties, and a whole lot of noise, all in the first eight minutes. Oxygen baby, oxygen.
The second quarter pace slowed down, somewhat, as Northland outscored Walnut Ridge 14-9 to take a slim 32-29 advantage at the break. Alexander dialed up a long distance three from the corner and Ridge held its biggest lead of the game 23-18.
“Coach (Bates) told us to let this loss teach us a lesson, but don’t take this loss so hard,” Alexander said. “This was probably the only game we could afford to lose. Any losses after this, the season’s over.”
Alexander is one smooth operator from his guard position. The 6-4 senior finished the afternoon with 19 points, including three triples. His style of play resembled Reggie Miller (UCLA) back in the day. He has received two D-II offers and is leaning towards Walsh.
Taylor said, “I was disappointed in our first half effort. They wanted it more than we did. But the kids stepped up to the challenge in the second half. They knew what to do. I didn’t have to say much.”
Robinson scored inside with a nice feed from Scott on a little high-low action and then Jordan Potts nailed a three from the perimeter to squelch the Ridge lead 25-23.
“We have worked together during the off-season on our high-low set,” said Robinson referring to Scott. “It is great to have a teammate you can depend on.”
Scott and Robinson can depend on each other the next four years as both signed with University of Dayton.
Scott scored on a monster dunk in transition and scored again on a putback and the Vikings led 30-29. They extended the lead when Ke’ Chaun Lewis drove the lane for a layup.
“My guards made great plays,” said Scott. “They know where everybody is supposed to be on the court.”
One of the best guard tandems in the league, Lewis and Potts each scored 11 points. But it was their shutdown defense that drew praise from the opposing coach.
Said Bates, “They have great guards. We planned to get into the lane and draw their bigs and dish to our bigs. They didn’t allow that to happen.”
The third quarter was a disaster for the Scots. They sputtered like a 20-year-old lawnmower, scoring just five points. And Northland took advantage, opening up its biggest lead of the game 51-36. Scott and Robinson took over with six points a piece, but it was their dominance on the defensive end that sealed WR’s fate. They combined for three blocks and altered several shot attempts.
Walnut Ridge guards Hardgrove, McCall and Brooks struggled with four, six, and three points, respectively. Potts and Lewis forced the issue and when the Scots’ guards were able to penetrate once in awhile, they had nowhere to go with Scott and Robinson lurking.
Potts said, “We preach defense. Defense leads to offense and our defense set the tone. We made them play a half-court game. We knew they liked to get out and run.”
Ridge closed the gap 54-46 with 5:02 left in the contest on a Malik Dime stuff, but the Vikings responded at the foul line, converting 7-of-10 to preserve the victory.
Normally Northland’s Achilles heel, the Vikings hit 20-of-27 free throws for 74-percent, way above their season average of 59-percent. Potts made 5-of-7 and Lewis was 7-of-9.
Walnut Ridge didn’t get to the line as often, but struggled when they did, shooting 7-of-16 for a dismal 44-percent.
Northland keeps its winning streak alive at 15 games and improves to 19-1 overall. They meet Grove City Central Crossing in the postseason February 23 at 6 p.m. at Marysville.
Taylor concluded, “Six in a row is impressive because you have turnover from year-to-year. I’m proud of the guys. It’s been a lot of work. We have the talent and the kids bought in. And the coaches told me the right things to do.”
Walnut Ridge’s 18-game win streak ends as they drop to 18-1. The Scots play Whetstone in the first round February 24 at 6 p.m. at Reynoldsburg.
Bates concluded, “It’s my job to get this team ready for the second season. We still have games to play. This won’t be the story of our season. We can make our own ending to this season.”
These same two teams could collide in the regional finals March 17 at the Columbus Fairgrounds Coliseum.
The dynasty continues and with it the baggage of high expectations. Rest assured, Northland’s four starting seniors – Scott, Robinson, Potts, and Lewis – are equipped to carry the load.
“Six straight. It’s the first step of a long journey,” Scott said. “There’s a lot of pressure on each group of seniors not to be ‘that’ team. We want a second state title.
“We have to come away with one.”