Most Dramatic State Tournament Events: No. 5
Stubborn Sullinger lifted Vikings to title
About this series...
The "Most Dramatic State Tournament Events" series marks the fourth summer ThisWeek has taken a look back at some of the greatest high school sports moments since 1990. Beginning with this edition, there will be a retrospective article on the top five events each week through Aug. 9, at which time the most dramatic state tournament event will be revealed. The series began July 5 with Nos. 6-10 and an honorable mention list.
MOST DRAMATIC STATE TOURNAMENT EVENTS: No. 5
Two schools of thought were debated during the Northland High School boys basketball team's timeout with 2.7 seconds left in the 2009 Division I state championship game against Cincinnati Princeton.
According to then-Vikings coach Satch Sullinger, the best thing for his son, Jared, to do after he'd gotten fouled with 2.7 seconds left -- from behind the 3-point line and with the game tied -- was to make the first two free throws and intentionally miss the third.
The logic was that missing the final attempt would make it difficult for Princeton to be able to take anything but an off-balance shot from long distance at the buzzer.
Jared Sullinger, wanting to ensure that his team wouldn't lose on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer, let the advice flow in one ear and out the other.
A junior at the time, the future Ohio State star unintentionally missed the third foul shot after making the first two. Fortunately for Northland, it held on to win 60-58, as a 70-foot shot attempt from Princeton's Orlando Williams was off the mark as the buzzer sounded.
The result was the only state championship in the history of Northland's program and the No. 5 Most Dramatic State Tournament Event of the ThisWeek era.
"(Coach Sullinger) told me to miss the third free throw, but I was actually trying to make it," Sullinger said. "I didn't want to lose the game, and Orlando Williams actually had a chance to dribble it to halfcourt and make it."
"I told him to miss the third shot because I knew they'd have to make a 3 to win it," coach Sullinger said. "He missed the third one and they didn't have enough time to get a good shot off."
There didn't appear to be a dramatic finish in the making for much of the game.
Northland, which finished 27-1 that season with its only loss coming in overtime, 67-61, in late January to Canton Timken, took a 4-3 lead with 5:22 left in the first quarter and never trailed again.
The Vikings led by as many as 11 points and were ahead 48-39 with 4:45 left when a 3-pointer by Williams pulled Princeton within two possessions. Northland stretched its lead back to seven points at 55-48 with 2:22 remaining, but Princeton rallied and was down 57-53 with 43 seconds left.
Jordan Potts, who became a key ball-handler for Northland late that season as a freshman, then committed a turnover and, on the ensuing possession, Williams made a 3-pointer to cut Princeton's deficit to 57-56.
"It's just a blessing that I had an opportunity to play in that game," said Potts, who will begin his college career at North Carolina-Greensboro this winter. "It was a life-changing game. I remember I had a couple big turnovers. I don't know what I'd have done with myself if we would have lost that game."
Trey Burke, a sophomore guard at the time who now plays for Michigan, made the second of two free throws to give Northland a 58-56 lead with 28 seconds left. Williams was fouled with 14 seconds left and made both free throws to tie the game at 58.
Northland then called a timeout, during which Sullinger told his teammates to "just give me the ball," according to coach Sullinger.
"There are certain players you just look them in the eye and you know they want the ball," coach Sullinger said.
Named Ohio's Mr. Basketball that season, Sullinger took the inbounds pass and dribbled toward the top of the key. He then leaned forward into Princeton's Marcus Davis, who was called for a foul while Sullinger attempted an off-balance 3-pointer.
The two free throws Sullinger made in the game's waning seconds gave him 15 points on just 4-for-13 shooting from the field. He went 7-for-12 from the free-throw line and had a team-best 12 rebounds while playing all 32 minutes.
J.D. Weatherspoon, a junior at the time who signed with Ohio State but since has transferred to Toledo, had 18 points and seven rebounds.
Williams, who went on to play for Miami University, had 19 points and 10 rebounds. Princeton's Jordan Sibert, who played for Ohio State the last two years but since has transferred to Dayton, had 21 points to lead all scorers.
"I remember it was just a real fun game," Weatherspoon said. "It was the first state championship for Northland, so it was a big deal. It's something to tell my kids about."
Joining Sullinger, Burke and Weatherspoon in the starting lineup against Princeton were 2009 graduates Javon Cornley and Dimonde Hale.
Sullinger was selected by the Boston Celtics with the 21st pick in this year's NBA draft. Cornley is a junior defensive end for the Indiana University football team and Hale is a senior on the Denison University men's basketball team who averaged 16.8 points and seven rebounds last season.
Also seeing limited action in the game for Northland were 2009 graduate Ricky Bennett and 2012 graduate Ke'Chaun Lewis. Lewis helped the Vikings earn a state runner-up finish in 2011 and signed with Fairmont State in May.
"I remember that was the game that Jordan Potts was a freshman clapping his hands at Jordan Sibert," coach Sullinger said. "I called him my pitbull. J.D. had a big game. He had 25 points (in a 73-59 win over Warren Harding in a state semifinal) and 19 in the state championship, and that's what caught (Ohio State coach) Thad Matta's eye."