When the buzzer sounded to end a frenetic OCC-Ohio Division game Dec. 8, Pickerington High School North boys basketball players mobbed each other as they celebrated something no one on the team had achieved at the varsity level.

When the buzzer sounded to end a frenetic OCC-Ohio Division game Dec. 8, Pickerington High School North boys basketball players mobbed each other as they celebrated something no one on the team had achieved at the varsity level.

Meanwhile, coach Jason Bates calmly raised the index finger on his right hand in a "No. 1" gesture, walked the length of the bench and hugged some of his players and assistant coaches.

North had just pulled off a 68-62 win at Pickerington Central, capping a dramatic second-half comeback for the second consecutive game while snapping an eight-game losing streak to its crosstown rival. While the Panthers acknowledged having a flair for the dramatic early this season, they also don't particularly care as long as they pile up wins.

That's exactly what the Panthers have done, as they are 4-0 overall and 3-0 in the OCC-Ohio entering a Friday, Dec. 18, home game against Reynoldsburg. All but their most recent win, 82-62 over Lancaster in their home opener Dec. 11, have been nail-biters.

After edging Delaware 48-45 in its season opener Dec. 1, North used a 22-0 second-half run to beat Newark 56-49 on Dec. 4, and came from seven points down in the third quarter to top Central for the first time since Jan. 25, 2011.

"These types of wins, they give us a lot of confidence for the season and what we're looking forward to doing," senior guard Zach Montes said.

North is off to its best start since starting 5-0 in the 2010-11 season.

The Panthers also are alone in first place in the OCC-Ohio, ahead of Central, Gahanna, Groveport and Newark at 2-1.

"The guys have felt the urgency of the game," Bates said after the game against Central and before citing contributions that didn't necessarily make the scorebook. "(Sophomore guard) Jerome Hunter was phenomenal. He had some big blocks and played virtually the entire game. Him locking things up on the defensive end and getting some rebounds allowed us to get more confident. Once we got stops, it helped us offensively."

Hunter is averaging 9.5 points, ranking third on the team behind guard Tyrell Carter (14.3) and center/forward Khiry Shelton (12.3). Point guard Ty Wiley is the team's fourth-leading scorer, averaging 8.5 points.

Shelton had 15 of his game-high 19 points in the second half against Central.

Against Lancaster, Carter had a game-high 19 points to lead four scorers in double figures. Shelton had 16 points, Hunter scored 15 and Wiley added 12.

Shelton, a 6-foot-8 junior who originally is from central Ohio but lived in greater Houston the past several years, has made an immediate impact -- just as he hoped.

"When I first came here, I drew attention just because of how big I am. I had a choice between North and Central, and the reason I chose to go to North is they needed a lot of help," said Shelton, who played his freshman season at Sugarland (Texas) Fort Bend Austin and his sophomore year at Houston Episcopal.

"Central already has a pretty dominant basketball program, and I like to be a part of something that will be remembered. This 'New Day North' (the team's slogan) movement is going well. (Starting 4-0), I don't think it's happened in a while. We haven't beaten Central since like 2011. That's been awhile. To be a part of this is really special."

Tigers making do while shorthanded

Central was without senior forward Jalen Tate against North because of a concussion, and it still was missing center Sterling Manley entering this week because of an injury sustained in the preseason.

Coach Eric Krueger saw a light at the end of the tunnel where those two were concerned, but he also saw a lot of games in the near future for the Tigers, who play 10 games in a 25-day span this month, including six in a 12-day stretch between Dec. 11 and Tuesday, Dec. 22.

Tate returned Dec. 11 against Reynoldsburg, scoring 18 points in a 64-58 win.

According to Krueger, Manley hoped to begin practice earlier this week.

"We'll keep grinding," said Krueger, whose team was 4-2 overall before playing Zanesville on Dec. 15 and is 2-1 in the OCC-Ohio entering a Friday, Dec. 18, game at Grove City. "Jalen is our leader. He does everything. He does a lot ... rebounding, making the right plays, being a threat offensively, steals. He does all the little things and has a lot of experience. It is what it is. Not having him puts us in a tough spot."

Tate, a Northern Kentucky University commit, was injured during an 86-55 win over Dayton Thurgood Marshall on Dec. 5 at Ohio Dominican. He fell to the floor while being defended as he went up for a basket.

Ibi Watson is coming off a monstrous week. The guard/forward and Michigan recruit averaged 28.3 points last week as Central went 1-2. He scored a game-high 24 points against North and a game-high 27 points at Reynoldsburg, then had 34 points, five rebounds and six assists in a 75-62 loss to Walnut Ridge on Dec. 12.