Northland to face Mentor at state
According to Gahanna coach Tony Staib, the toughest thing about playing the Northland High School boys basketball team might be the Vikings' defense because of their "length at a lot of positions."
The same thing could be said of Mentor, which Northland will face in a Division I state semifinal at 5:15 p.m. Friday, March 22, at Ohio State.
The Cardinals feature seven players who average at least eight points, including a trio of junior forwards in Brandon Fitts (6-foot-5), Kade McClure (6-6) and Caleb Potter (6-4).
While the Vikings were ranked first in the final state poll and improved to 28-0 by beating Gahanna 62-53 in a regional final March 16 at the Fairgrounds Coliseum, Mentor is 23-5 after defeating Shaker Heights 76-56 in a regional final the same night at Cleveland State.
"They're very good," coach Sean Taylor said. "They're very disciplined, they can shoot and they pressure. They run. They're a good team."
The winner will play Cincinnati Walnut Hills or Toledo Rogers for the championship at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, March 23, at Ohio State.
It will be the Vikings' third appearance in the state tournament in five seasons. They won the 2009 championship and were runners-up in 2011.
Mentor made its only previous state appearance in 2010 and lost in a semifinal to Cincinnati Moeller 66-59 in overtime.
Like the previous team, the Cardinals have one of coach Bob Krizancic's sons on their roster. His son, Cole, was a junior on the 2010 team and son Conner is a 6-2 junior guard on this one.
Another similarity between Mentor and Northland is balance. Senior forward Armani Towns averages a team-best 14 points for the Vikings. The Cardinals are led offensively by 6-3 senior guard Jeff Foreman, who also averages 14 points.
Potter (13 points per game) and Conner Krizancic (12 ppg) also have been offensive leaders for Mentor, which was eighth in the final state poll.
Walnut Hills was third in the final state poll and beat Cincinnati LaSalle 50-46 in a regional final March 15 at Xavier University to improve to 27-1.
Rogers, which was unranked, beat Brecksville-Broadview Heights 63-61 in overtime March 16 at the University of Toledo to take a 20-7 record into the state tournament.
Walnut Hills is making its first state appearance. Rogers' only previous time at state came in 2011, when it lost to Dayton Thurgood Marshall 68-66 in a Division II semifinal.
Rogers is led by senior guards Tony Kynard and Clemmye Owens. Both have signed to play for Bethune-Cookman.
Walnut Hills features senior center Isaiah Johnson, an Akron signee who had 16 points and 10 rebounds against LaSalle, and senior forward and Ohio University recruit D.J. Wingfield.
Northland, meanwhile, could become the first team in state history to go 30-0.
That tempered the celebration as the Vikings cut down the nets after winning the regional title.
"It's not been easy at all, and now we've got the (state tournament)," Towns said. "I've got to keep pushing my guys to win the state championship because we want to go 30-0."
"We're trying to finish off an undefeated season," junior guard Ty Hairston said. "We're trying to make history. It's about staying humble and going one game at a time. We don't want it to get to our heads because (the regional tournament) isn't state."
Towns finished with 20 points and seven rebounds against Gahanna. He made a pair of foul shots during the final minute, as the Vikings were 12-for-14 from the free-throw line during the final quarter to hold off any hopes of a rally by the Lions.
Gahanna led 35-31 with 4 minutes, 5 seconds left in the third quarter before Northland used a 13-0 run to take control.
Freshman forward Seth Towns battled foul trouble throughout the game, but junior guard Jhustus Cornley came off the bench for six points and two rebounds.
Junior post player Jaylen Tucker had 10 points and eight rebounds and Hairston added 10 points.
The Lions outrebounded Northland 40-30 but were held to just 16-for-51 shooting (31.4 percent).
"We just played with some energy," Taylor said. "(Seth Towns) got a couple big fouls early, but guys stepped up and we picked it up. It's about causing organized confusion.
"Defensive rebounding is what I feel wins games, and (Gahanna was) beating us on the boards. We turned things around by our rebounding. That was a point of emphasis."
Northland advanced to the regional final by blowing past Canton Timken 74-47 in a regional semifinal March 13 at the Fairgrounds.
Similarly to the troubles the Vikings caused with their defense against Gahanna, they held Timken to 15-for-44 shooting (34.1 percent).
Northland led 18-13 after one quarter and forced 12 turnovers while outscoring the Trojans 26-6 in the second period.
Armani Towns, who did not play for the Vikings as a freshman when they were a regional runner-up or as a sophomore when they lost in the state final, had 18 points on 9-for-16 shooting and added eight rebounds.
"I was pretty upset with the way we started the game and I challenged the guys to step forward and let's play," Taylor said. "We've got to make it chaotic and force the tempo and we've got to play at a fast pace."
"We pressured them very well and ran our offense very well in the second quarter," Armani Towns said.