The Westerville North High School boys basketball team may be playing as well as any team in the area, but the Warriors know they can't afford to become complacent.

The Westerville North High School boys basketball team may be playing as well as any team in the area, but the Warriors know they can't afford to become complacent.

North entered a contest against New Albany on Jan. 31 having won nine of its previous 10 games, but the Warriors face challenging OCC-Cardinal Division contests Friday, Feb. 3, at Olentangy Liberty and Tuesday, Feb. 7, at home against Westerville South.

"We're in the middle of a stretch where we play Tuesday and Friday the next few weeks, so it's a make-or-break time for us in the league," coach Kevin Thuman said.

"Every league game will be critical for us right now with two losses. We can't afford to stub our toe. We have to play every game like it's for the league championship, because essentially it is."

North's league losses came on back-to-back nights in December. The Warriors lost 45-41 at Dublin Scioto on Dec. 16, also losing point guard Jack Gibbs with a season-ending knee injury in the process, and then lost to Liberty 59-50 on Dec. 17.

North, which has won its last six league games, avenged the loss to Scioto by beating the Irish 62-41 on Jan. 27. The Warriors hope to do the same against Liberty, which is fourth in the Division I state poll behind Northland, Pickerington Central and Cincinnati La Salle.

Liberty sits atop the OCC-Cardinal at 10-0, with North and South tied for second at 8-2. Scioto is fourth at 5-5, followed by Olentangy (4-6), Westerville Central (4-6), Dublin Jerome (1-9) and Marysville (0-10).

In the first meeting, the Patriots were sharp from the perimeter, as 6-foot-3 guard Jake Bischoff led with 18 points, including four 3-pointers, and 5-11 guard Sam DeRoy came off the bench to scored 12 points on four 3s. Nick Archer, a 6-8 center, had 16 points and 6-6 wing player Alec Charbonneau scored eight.

"When I look at Liberty, I see size," said Thuman, whose team was fifth in the area coaches poll last week behind Northland, Walnut Ridge, Liberty and Pickerington Central. "Across the board, they're bigger than us at every position. And they also are extremely well-organized and efficient on their offense, which they run well. But they also have great talent to run that offense, which makes a big difference."

Adrian Cook, a 5-10 guard, had 14 points in the first meeting with Liberty to lead North. Taivion Thomas, a 6-5 post player, and 6-2 guard Jaylen Benton both had 13 points.

"I thought Liberty did a great job of defending us the first time and they always play strong defensively," Thuman said. "We have to come out and execute our offense the way we have for the past few weeks."

South will be looking to avenge a 59-53 loss to the Warriors on Jan. 3. Benton led North with 21 points, including three 3-pointers. Alex Stewart had 11 points and Thomas and Matt Rhodes each had 10 points.

"That's going to be a huge game," Thuman said. "I thought we played exceptionally well in the first game and it will be great to see if we can put that kind of effort together again.

"I'm sure they will do a great job of defending and (South coach) Ed (Calo) will have his kids ready and so will we. It will probably come down to the kids making plays at the end. That will make the difference."

•The girls team has won three consecutive games, including a 51-41 win over Scioto on Jan. 27 to improve to 9-8 overall and 6-5 in the OCC-Cardinal.

"I think we're playing better as a team right now," coach Jim Kloepfer said. "We're working hard and the girls really want to have a winning season. Our seniors, Maddie (Roseberry) and Alex (Brooker), are playing with a lot of focus and being great leaders for the younger girls. And Symone (Simmons) has really been scoring points."

Simmons led the team in scoring the last three contests, totaling 52 points for a 17.3 average.

The freshman guard had 18 points against Scioto and classmate Devin Jackson scored 11 against the Irish.

"It's been fun and we have been playing better, but we still have things to work on," Kloepfer said. "We missed 11 free throws in the fourth quarter and still won by 10. We were lucky in that respect, but we can't do that every night."