Already playing without its coach, the Pickerington High School Central boys basketball team also faces time without one of the best players ever to wear a Tigers uniform.
Jae'Sean Tate, a 6-foot-5 senior forward and Ohio State signee who is the program's all-time leading scorer, will undergo an MRI on Thursday, Feb. 6, to determine whether he needs shoulder surgery.
Tate, who was averaging 20.7 points, said he tore the labrum in his right shoulder last May. He did not play in a 77-72 win over Grove City on Jan. 31 that improved Central to 14-3 overall and 9-1 in the OCC-Ohio Division.
"It just wasn't getting any better," said Tate, who has no timetable for a possible return. "There hasn't been a lot of pain, but I don't want to damage my shoulder any more."
Tate committed to Ohio State before his junior season, in which he averaged 21.9 points and 12 rebounds and was named first-team all-district in Division I and ThisWeek's Super 12 captain. He signed with the Buckeyes on Nov. 14.
Tate's play before he was sidelined was some of the best of his career.
He had 32 points, 13 rebounds and six assists in a 97-89 win at Cleveland Benedictine on Jan. 18 and 31 points and 12 rebounds in a 74-67 win over Westerville Central on Jan. 21. In what could turn out to be Tate's final game if he needs surgery, he had 17 points in a 74-70 win over Northland in the Scholastic Play-by-Play Classic on Jan. 25 at Ohio Dominican.
"We will have to make a lot of adjustments," interim coach Eric Krueger said. "Our offense runs through J.T. We're going to have to get big minutes off the bench from these guys. We'll have to share the ball and be unselfish. Defensively, we'll have to do different things.
"There's no replacing Jae'Sean, that's for sure."
Central's win against Grove City kept the Tigers in charge of the OCC-Ohio entering a Feb. 4 showdown at Newark. The Wildcats handed the Tigers their only league loss before this week, 62-58 on Jan. 3.
Newark was 8-2 in the league before Feb. 4, just ahead of third-place Gahanna (8-3). Central plays Gahanna in its regular-season finale Feb. 14.
The Tigers were 8-0 under Krueger entering the week. He has coached the Tigers for the past month in place of Jerry Francis, who is on an indefinite leave of absence for health-related reasons.
"I love my team. I have no doubt in my mind they're going to be fine," Tate said. "This is just a bump in the road on our path to state. We can still win the league. We can still go far in the tournament."
Without Tate, the Tigers will have to shuffle a lineup led by shooting guard Connor Kern, an Arkansas State signee. Kern entered the Newark game averaging 22.3 points in Central's previous eight games.
Sophomore Jaylin Bannerman, a 6-4 forward, started in Tate's place against Grove City. He did not score, and his minutes were limited because of foul trouble.
Also seeing increased time was 6-3 junior guard Dajon Moore, who has come off the bench in his first season with the Tigers. Moore played for Pickerington North last year.
Tate entered the week with 1,489 career points, putting him first on the school's all-time list, 269 ahead of second-place Rush Floyd. Kern is closing in on Floyd, having scored 1,177 points entering the week.
Close losses plague Panthers
North drew within five points of visiting New Albany with 40 seconds left in a home game Feb. 1, but lost 53-46.
The Panthers, who were 3-14 overall and 2-8 in the OCC-Ohio before visiting Groveport on Feb. 4, had six losses by nine points or fewer entering the week.
"Early in the season, we really played well in games maybe 15 minutes out of 32. Now, I'm seeing it for 27 or 28 minutes of a 32-minute game," coach Jerry Groves said. "Every night it seems like we have a stretch of a minute or two where ... I don't know what happens, but we keep getting better and I hope we get a few wins because of that.
"The biggest thing is not being afraid to win. Sometimes, you're afraid to make the mistake that might cause you to lose, and because you are pressing you end up making a worse mistake and hurting your team. And also, it's just getting a stop at the right time. We've had a number of times where we just need to make one more layup to put ourselves up to where we can stretch out a lead."
One bright spot recently has been North's long-range shooting. The Panthers hit seven 3-pointers in a 69-41 loss to Reynoldsburg on Jan. 31 and four more against New Albany. Zach Montes had three against the Eagles, scoring 16 points. Bryce Montes added 15.
Mykus Hall's 10 points paced North at Reynoldsburg.