After dropping five games in a row -- including two to defending state champions -- the Pickerington High School Central boys basketball team faces another quirk in its schedule.

After dropping five games in a row -- including two to defending state champions -- the Pickerington High School Central boys basketball team faces another quirk in its schedule.

A trip Tuesday to Groveport will mark the end of a seven-game road stretch, and has some players struggling to remember what their home gym looks like.

"Seven games, I don't think I've ever dealt with something like that in my 15 years of coaching," coach Jerry Groves said. "That's the great thing about this league we're in -- you've got to be competitive every night and that's going to make us better every night."

Central bounced back from the skid with a 57-49 win over OCC-Ohio Division-rival Lancaster on Jan. 20 and a 76-41 victory over Horizon Science last Friday.

Groves hopes that momentum will carry over into the second half of OCC-Ohio play.

"When you've lost five in a row, I don't care who you are, you're doubting yourself a little bit," Groves said. "It was a tough stretch, but even so, our kids weren't sure what we were as a team. To win back-to-back games and get back to .500, we're starting to feel a lot better."

Groves thinks the younger players are starting to grasp the effort it takes to be competitive in the league. Senior Ryan Hesse knows seeing some teams for the second time in league play is a chance to surprise them.

"We have sophomores and juniors that had to go through it once to understand how good the league is," Hesse said. "We've got so many good athletes that once we get going, we can fight every night with the best teams in the OCC."

•The struggle to close tight games continues for North.

The Panthers battled back from 16 points down against Groveport on Jan. 20, but fell 70-67 in double overtime. Despite losses in four of the last five games entering a contest last Tuesday against Central, coach Pete Liptrap was confident his team is improving.

Defense has been a concern for North, but was better in the Groveport game. Getting back in transition has been a key area of focus in practice, and the Panthers held the Cruisers close to 40-percent shooting from the field.

"It's no accident that Newark and Grove City, the two best teams in our league, are the two best defensive teams," Liptrap said. "If we want to get back to that level we have to get better defensively. Our kids have the answers as to where they should be on defense, it's just a matter of getting that to carry over onto the court."

North will look to bounce back at Reynoldsburg on Friday and Gahanna on Tuesday. The Panthers began a three-game winning streak with a 66-63 upset of the Lions on Dec. 23.

At a glance

Below are the recent results and coming schedules for the Central and North boys basketball teams:

CENTRAL

Last Friday -- Defeated Horizon Science 76-41. Evan Betts had a season-high 20 points and 10 assists

*Last Tuesday -- Played North

*Friday -- At Gahanna. The Lions were 8-4 overall and 3-4 in the OCC-Ohio before playing Lancaster last Tuesday.

*Tuesday -- At Groveport. Central won 72-71 on Dec. 23.

Of note: The Tigers were 6-6 overall and 4-4 in the OCC-Ohio before last Tuesday.

NORTH

*Last Friday -- Lost to Groveport 70-67 (2OT). North trailed by 16 points in the first half.

*Last Tuesday -- Played Central

*Friday -- At Reynoldsburg. The Raiders were 9-4 overall and 5-3 in the OCC-Ohio before playing Newark last Tuesday.

*Tuesday -- Home vs. Gahanna. North won 66-63 on Dec. 23.

Of note: The Panthers were 5-8 overall and 2-6 in the OCC-Ohio before last Tuesday.

*OCC-Ohio game