Billed as a must-see event for high school hoops fans, The Challenge — featuring five boys basketball games and an all-central Ohio cast — mostly lived up to the hype Jan. 6 at Pickerington North.
The fourth game provided the most thrills, with Upper Arlington earning a 55-53 double-overtime victory over Africentric.
Having teams from the OCC face teams from the City League and CCL gave all 10 teams the opportunity to see where they might stack up a few weeks from now when the district tournament begins.
Three of the five games were competitive, which helps.
Here are five things we learned from The Challenge:
1. Pickerington North’s experience and defensive ability make it a tough out.
In the finale of the event, the Panthers beat previously unbeaten Beechcroft 67-55.
The Cougars led 17-10 at the end of the first quarter and 28-27 at halftime, but throughout the second half, the Panthers showed the poise of a team that was a Division I regional runner-up last season.
North’s Jerome Hunter, who scored his 1,000th career point during the first half and finished with 29, helped the Panthers find their footing, particularly on the defensive end late in the third quarter. The Cougars had one seven-minute sequence during the second half in which they scored just one basket.
2. No one said improving to 10-0 would be easy — just ask UA.
If Hunter isn’t central Ohio’s top player then perhaps Upper Arlington’s Dane Goodwin is, and he had 16 points in his team’s victory over the Nubians.
Africentric, though, possesses more athleticism than most teams the Golden Bears will face and also has one of central Ohio’s top point guards in Tre Baumgardner, who produced 26 points, including a 3-pointer with 5.5 seconds left to give his team a 51-49 lead. The Bears sent it to overtime on a basket by Casey Jones and got the game-winning jumper from Will Grabovac in the second overtime.
3. Westerville North and Hilliard Bradley both had strong showings.
In the two least-competitive games of the event, Bradley beat Northland 60-40 and North controlled Linden-McKinley 63-42.
It was one of the top offensive performances of the season for Bradley as Isaiah Speelman scored 25 points after entering the game averaging 13.2 points.
North showed its potential during the first half when it outscored Linden 36-13.
4. Don’t feel too bad for the City despite its rough day.
The City League went 0-4 in the event, but matchups played a big role in that.
Africentric is a Division III program that nearly defeated one of the area’s top Division I teams while Beechcroft is a Division II team. The other City programs, Linden and Northland, are among the top teams along with Beechcroft in the City-North Division.
Both the Vikings and Panthers will look to shore up their offensive games over the coming weeks.
5. Hartley and Groveport both should have bright second halves.
Although Groveport improved to just 4-7 with a 56-50 victory over Hartley, five of its losses have come by fewer than 10 points. Antwon Hampton had 11 of his team-best 18 points in the fourth quarter as the Cruisers held off a rally attempt by the Hawks.
Hartley is 7-3 and figures to be one of the tougher teams to deal with in Division II because of a lineup that includes 6-foot-7 post player Payton Collins, who had 12 points.