Based on the way the Africentric Early College and Northland boys basketball teams are talking about their matchup in the City League championship game at noon Saturday, Feb. 16, at Columbus East, baskets could be at a premium.
Both the Nubians, who were ranked fourth in last week's Division IV state poll, and the Vikings, who were first in Division I, take pride in their defensive approaches.
"We spend half our practice time working on pressing and rebounding," Africentric coach Michael Bates said. "They're tenacious. What you see on the court is chemistry."
"Defense is where we're strong," Northland senior guard Ty Hairston said.
Northland was 20-0 overall and 13-0 in the City League-North Division before playing Centennial on Feb. 12. The Vikings entered that game having won 103 consecutive City League games, including the past six City championship games. Northland beat Walnut Ridge in each of the last two league finals, including 66-55 last season.
Africentric is 19-2 overall and went 13-1 in the City-South. Its only losses have come to Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph (67-58 on Dec. 1) and Columbus South (57-54 on Jan. 18). Villa Angela-St. Joseph was first in last week's Division IV state poll.
The only time Africentric has competed in the City final was in 2005, when it edged Brookhaven 44-43 in overtime on the way to winning the Division IV state title. After the season, the Nubians forfeited all 27 of their victories for using an ineligible player.
While the 2005 Africentric team had four players sign to play collegiately and Northland produced future collegians such as Jared Sullinger and Trey Burke during its six-year run of City titles, this year's teams have found success because of the sum of their parts.
Northland's leader in scoring average before Feb. 12 was senior forward Armani Towns at 13.7 points per game, followed by Hairston (11.4), junior forward Derek McKeithen (11.2), freshman forward Seth Towns (9.5), junior post player Jaylen Tucker (9.0) and junior guard Shemar Waugh (8.0).
Hairston, who did not play the first seven games this season, McKeithen and Armani Towns were complementary players last season when Northland went 22-2.
Northland kept its league winning streak alive and clinched its berth in the City final by winning 59-57 in overtime Feb. 8 at Brookhaven.
Brookhaven senior guard Randal Clarkson made a 3-pointer just inside halfcourt to force overtime.
"We had to keep our heads up," Armani Towns said. "It's a tough game to get to the City championship. We had to pick it up because we're the No. 1 team in the state."
Senior guard Kenny Robinson is Africentric's leading scorer at 14.1 points per game. Senior guards Cyquil Tucker (10.3) and Trevon Saunders (10.0), sophomore guard/forward Jaquan Harrison (8.4) and junior guard/forward Akil Cornish (7.4) have been other key contributors. Cornish has had five games with at least four 3-pointers.
Robinson and Saunders were starters and Tucker also saw action last season as Africentric went 22-4 and made its second consecutive appearance in a state semifinal.
"There are teams that probably have more talent than us, but we work hard and that pays off," Tucker said.
Local wrestling teams all have City placers
The Mifflin wrestling team won its first City League title Feb. 9 at Columbus South with 192.5 points. Brookhaven was sixth (98), Northland was 11th (58) and Beechcroft finished last (18) as 15 teams scored.
Anthony Alexander (138 pounds) was first and improved to 37-0 on the season for Northland. Also placing for the Vikings were Kaylin Glass (fifth at 103), Donovan Starks (sixth at 152) and Saul Arias (fourth at 195).
Northland will compete in a Division I sectional Saturday, Feb. 16, at Marysville.
Alexander is among the favorites to win a title at 138 along with Marysville's Noah Forrider. Last season, Alexander lost to Forrider 13-9 for a sectional title and 6-1 for the district title.
"That's my rival," Alexander said. "It's time for some revenge."
Placing for Brookhaven in the league tournament were Giovaughni Bonner (second at 106), Josh Thornton (fifth at 126), Deandre Powell (third at 145), Crishon Ashby fourth at 152), Jalen Bonner (fourth at 160) and Justin Baker (third at heavyweight).
"We just tried to get as many placers as we could," Bearcats coach Steve Ayers said. "We have some guys who won some matches and had some success."
Brookhaven and Beechcroft will compete in a Division II sectional Saturday, Feb. 16, at Licking Valley.
Placing in the City tournament for Beechcroft was Mahad Ahmed (third at 152).
Swimming teams compete in sectionals
The Northland and Beechcroft swimming teams both had athletes advance to district by receiving at-large berths from sectional meets held Feb. 9.
In the Division I boys district meet Saturday, Feb. 16, at Ohio State, Northland will be represented by senior Viet Nguyen, who is seeded 15th (1 minute, 52.53 seconds) in the 200-yard freestyle and 24th (5:13.28) in the 500 free. Also, junior Clay Siens is seeded fourth (1:01.93) in the 100 breaststroke and 24th (2:09.73) in the 200 individual medley.
The Northland boys' 200 free relay is seeded 19th (1:38.64), the 400 free relay is seeded 24th (3:51.84) and the 200 medley relay is seeded 16th (1:51.21).
The top two placers in each swimming event at district automatically advance to the state meet Feb. 21-23 at Branin Natatorium in Canton. In addition, 16 at-large state berths will be awarded for each swimming event based on times statewide. The top three boys divers and top four girls divers at district advance to state.
The Northland boys were eighth (81) in an 11-team sectional at Thomas Worthington behind champion Westerville South (216). The girls were 12th (14) of 13 teams behind champion and host Thomas (311).
In the Division II girls district meet Friday, Feb. 15, at Ohio State, Beechcroft will be represented by freshman Erin Baggs, who is seeded 23rd (2:40.18) in the 200 IM.
The top two placers in each swimming event automatically advance to the state meet Wednesday, Feb. 20, through Feb. 22 at Branin Natatorium. In addition, 16 at-large state berths will be awarded for each swimming event based on times statewide. The top boys diver and top three girls divers at district advance to state.
In sectionals at Columbus Academy, the Beechcroft boys were 21st (2) behind champion Granville (279) as 21 teams scored and the girls were 24th (1) behind champion Granville (339) as 24 teams scored.