The Northland High School boys basketball team was ranked first in the Division I state poll by midseason and later earned the top seed for the district tournament, but there were different aspects to its fifth district title run in seven seasons.
When the Vikings won a title in 2007 and three in a row from 2009-11, future collegians such as Devon Moore, Jared Sullinger, Trey Burke, Jordan Potts, Devon Scott and Jalen Robinson were among those who led the way.
Northland didn't enter this season with as lofty expectations and used more of a balanced approach to breeze into a Division I district final.
Then in a district final March 9 at the Fairgrounds Coliseum, the Vikings outrebounded third-seeded Olentangy Liberty 34-21 and made 10 of 12 free throws in the fourth quarter on their way to a 52-48 win.
Northland improved to 26-0 and advanced to a regional semifinal against Canton Timken on March 13.
"I'm just proud of my guys," coach Sean Taylor said. "It's wonderful. Nobody thought we were going to do much this year, not even myself. With us losing so much leadership from last year, the guys have bought in and worked hard."
The Northland-Timken winner plays a member of the OCC-Ohio Division -- Gahanna or defending state champion Pickerington Central -- in a regional final at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 16, at the Fairgrounds.
Gahanna, seeded ninth in the district, beat 13th-seeded Newark 64-54 in a district final March 9 to improve to 20-5 and features senior guard and University of Akron-recruit Aaron Jackson and junior forward Javon Bess.
Central, seeded 10th, beat 18th-seeded Olentangy Orange 62-55 in a district final March 9 to improve to 19-7 and is led by forward Jae'Sean Tate, a junior who has verbally committed to Ohio State.
The regional champion will play Shaker Heights, North Royalton, North Canton Hoover or Mentor in a state semifinal at 5:15 p.m. March 22 at Ohio State. The state final is set for 8:30 p.m. March 23 at Ohio State.
Northland's previous four district titles came under former coach Satch Sullinger.
In Taylor's first season a year ago, the top-seeded Vikings lost 53-51 to Reynoldsburg in a district final.
Taylor won a district title in 2008 as the coach at Eastmoor but lost district finals with the Warriors in 2007, '09 and '11.
Against Liberty, junior forward Jalen Tucker had 12 points and 10 rebounds, freshman forward Seth Towns had 10 points and nine rebounds and junior guard Shemar Waugh had 11 points and five rebounds.
Waugh played the previous two seasons at Canal Winchester, which hasn't won a district tournament game since 2010.
"I really thought we were going to come out harder, but our team's got so much heart that we're going to pull it out no matter what," said Waugh, whose team led the Patriots 18-11 after the first quarter but trailed 26-24 at halftime. "We locked in and got focused. It's just a blessing to go from not winning a district tournament game (at Canal Winchester) to this. We've grown so much as a family this year."
Northland beat 20th-seeded Walnut Ridge 79-43 in a district semifinal March 6 at Marysville, as junior guard Derek McKeithen made four 3-pointers and finished with 16 points, Towns had 13 points and senior forward Armani Towns scored 12.
Brookhaven boys fall in district final
The Brookhaven boys basketball team came up short in its bid for a second consecutive Division II district title, losing to second-seeded Watterson 56-52 in overtime in a district final March 8 at the Fairgrounds.
The top-seeded Bearcats got 23 points from senior guard Randal Clarkson and led 32-21 at halftime before Watterson rallied to force overtime. Brookhaven handed the Eagles their only loss during the regular season, 59-56 on Jan. 5.
The Bearcats finished 21-4 and Watterson improved to 24-1.
"I felt like any struggles we had can be attributed to Watterson's grit and fight," coach Hali Robinson said. "They did a good job of taking (senior forward Deiondray) Martin away, and we didn't go to our second or third (scoring) options very well. We weren't making shots and we became one-dimensional. They knocked us back on our heels and things went dry for our offense. Give them all the credit."
Brookhaven loses six seniors in Clarkson, Martin, forward Kevin Greenhow and guards Blake McEwen, Rahman Clay and Malik Bush.
Clarkson averaged 14 points and was named district Player of the Year and Martin averaged 18 points and made second-team all-district. Clarkson and Martin both were first-team all-league.
Greenhow averaged 15 points and was second-team all-league, and McEwen was honorable mention all-league.
Brookhaven's only other losses came against Northland (63-61 on Jan. 8 and 59-57 on Feb. 8) and Centennial (62-60 on Dec. 7).
The Bearcats placed second in the City League-North Division at 11-3, behind Northland (14-0) and ahead of Centennial (10-4), Beechcroft (7-7), Columbus East (6-8), Mifflin (5-9), Whetstone (3-11) and Linden-McKinley (0-14).
Brookhaven opened the district tournament by defeating 27th-seeded Linden 77-61 in the first round Feb. 23. It then beat 21st-seeded London 90-49 in the second round Feb. 28 and 15th-seeded East 75-53 in a district semifinal March 6 to set up the rematch with Watterson.
Rally falls short for Beechcroft boys
The Beechcroft boys basketball team's rally from a double-digit deficit came up short in a 61-60 loss to 11th-seeded Marion-Franklin in a Division II district semifinal March 6 at Newark.
The 12th-seeded Cougars outscored the Red Devils 28-16 in the fourth quarter. Freshman guard Michael Powers made a 3-pointer to cut their deficit to 61-60, but senior forward Khaleed Franklin missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Senior forward Patrick Ngene-Igwe had 29 points and 16 rebounds and Franklin had 14 points for Beechcroft, which finished 11-14.
Marion-Franklin went on to beat 13th-seeded DeSales 56-34 in a district final and advanced to a regional semifinal at 15-12.
"Basically, we started fouling them and they started making their free throws," first-year coach Humphrey Simmons said.
Ngene-Igwe and Franklin led a four-member senior class that also included guard Daniel Yeboah and forward Michael Odogwu.
Ngene-Igwe averaged 17.5 points and was third-team all-district and first-team all-league. Franklin averaged 14.5 points and made second-team all-league. Senior guard Maurice Hale averaged six points and was honorable mention all-league.
Among those expected to return are Powers, sophomore guard/forward Joshua Chellers (9 points per game) and sophomore guard Robert Martin (10 ppg). Chellers made honorable mention all-league.
"Working on our pressure defense was the No. 1 thing we started preaching," Simmons said. "My seniors stepped up big time, stressing how bad they wanted to (win)."