The Westerville North High School boys basketball team had another strong season, but it could not solve Newark in a second consecutive Division I district semifinal.
The second-seeded Warriors led by 14 points in the third quarter but lost to 13th-seeded Newark 59-55 on March 6 at Westerville Central.
North finished 23-2 overall and won its first league title since 1997-98, but it could not win its first district title since that season. The Warriors lost to Newark 63-62 in overtime last season in a district semifinal.
"Obviously, we have had a good three-year run," said Kevin Thuman, who announced his retirement after 18 seasons as coach. "We had 23 wins this year and went 17-6 two years ago and 18-5 last year.
"We aimed really high with goals this year. We made some of them, but obviously we didn't get all that we would have liked."
North led 34-20 with 3 minutes, 40 seconds remaining in the third quarter, but 6-foot-6 junior center Teddy Metzen scored 14 of his 20 points in the fourth to lead Newark's rally.
"We played 2 1/2 good quarters, but then the big kid (Metzen) and (sophomore guard) Jordan Dartis (12 points, 6 assists) took over," Thuman said. "You have to give Newark a lot of credit. We didn't get open shots, and they converted at the foul line and we didn't."
Junior forward Alex Stewart led the Warriors with 13 points and senior guards Jaylen Benton and Jack Gibbs both scored 12.
North defeated visiting Logan 77-44 on Feb. 23 in the opening round of district play and beat visiting Columbus West 91-46 on Feb. 27 in the second round.
The Warriors won the OCC-Cardinal Division at 14-0, ahead of Dublin Scioto (11-3), Westerville South (9-5), Hilliard Darby (8-6), Westerville Central (6-8), Dublin Jerome (4-10), Worthington Kilbourne (4-10) and Hilliard Bradley (0-14).
"We're happy about getting the league championship and that shows that we were able to play at a high level for the course of the season," said Thuman, who was the league's Coach of the Year. "Winning a league championship is tough enough, but to be able to run the table says a lot about our kids."
Gibbs led the Warriors in points (15.2), assists (3.4) and steals (3.9) per game and free-throw shooting (79-for-95, 83.2 percent). The Davidson (N.C.) College signee was the Player of the Year in the district and league.
"This was probably my favorite season at North," Gibbs said. "It was as much as a family as a basketball team. We had team meals together and everything. It was a fun year."
Benton (14.9 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 3.2 steals) and senior guard Adrian Cook (11 points, 3.1 assists, 2.1 steals) were honorable mention all-district and first-team all-league. Stewart (10.8 points, 5.0 rebounds) was honorable mention all-district and second-team all-league. Senior guard Brett Durden (4.4 points, 3.9 rebounds) was honorable mention all-district. Senior guard Darren Nettles (2.4 points) was an OCC scholar athlete.
Other seniors were guard Devon Harris and forward Caleb Ledford.
Expected to return are juniors Justin Bennett (center), Brian Chaney (forward), Jalen Hearn (guard), R.J. Hutcherson (center, 3.0 points, 3.5 rebounds), Isaiah Keene (forward, 4.6 points), Connor Roldan (forward) and Stewart.
"We have three guys (Hutcherson, Keene and Stewart) with varsity experience and several who will make the jump up from j.v.," Thuman said. "We had a whole group of guards who were seniors, so we'll have to have someone step in to control the game and run our offense."