Zach Montes' performance has been a key for the Pickerington High School North boys basketball team all season, but even the 6-foot-3 senior guard admits the past few weeks have been above and beyond his own expectations.

Zach Montes' performance has been a key for the Pickerington High School North boys basketball team all season, but even the 6-foot-3 senior guard admits the past few weeks have been above and beyond his own expectations.

Montes has been on a tear since mid-January, averaging 15.2 points in five games between Jan. 16 and Jan. 29 even as North endured its roughest patch of the season. The Panthers were 9-9 overall and 6-5 in the OCC-Ohio Division before playing Groveport on Feb. 2, having lost eight of their previous 10 games.

On paper, Montes' strong play of late began when he scored a career-high 25 points in a 58-54 double-overtime loss to Kettering Alter in Flyin' to the Hoop on Jan. 16 at Kettering Fairmont.

But Montes, who started on and off for North as a junior, attributed this stretch to an increased emphasis on his jump shot.

"I've been coming in early and staying after practice getting some help with my jump shot, and I just think being able to improve that has helped me with my driving and being able to get into the lane," Montes said. "I've finished well. I feel like I've been in the groove lately. This is probably one of the best stretches I've ever had. I want to take responsibility off some of the younger guys. I feel like it helps the flow of the offense a lot.

"After that Alter game ... that's when it started to click. That's probably the best game I've ever had."

Montes followed up that performance with 10 points in a 68-52 win at Lancaster on Jan. 22, a game-high 17 in a 54-51 loss to New Albany in the Jared Sullinger Ohio Scholastic Play-by-Play Classic on Jan. 24 at Ohio Dominican University and 13 in a 69-52 home loss to Pickerington Central on Jan. 26. He added 10 in an 83-66 loss at Reynoldsburg on Jan. 29 as Jerome Hunter scored 19 points.

Against New Albany, Montes made a layup as part of a 6-0 run to start the fourth quarter and scored what became the Panthers' final points on a floating jumper in the lane with 3 minutes, 44 seconds left.

"He's locked in. I wish he could get some help," coach Jason Bates said of Montes after the loss to New Albany. "We need guys who take advantage of opportunities like he is. He is playing great ball right now defensively and offensively, and the great thing is it has started with his defense. Early in the season he was being a defensive stopper, and now you get to see his defense playing into his offense. He is playing at a really high level right now.

"Our problem is trying to find four guys around him who match his intensity."

Montes said he found his ideal training partners in practice, saying he has improved his agility against teammates such as 6-8 center Khiry Shelton and 6-7 forward Eli McNamara.

"It's their height and length," Montes said. "Those guys are just long and athletic, and it really helps me get into game situations in practice. Being able to finish in the lane around big guys is huge."

North has two league games remaining, on Friday, Feb. 5, at home against Gahanna and Feb. 12 at Grove City. Those games are sandwiched around the Division I district tournament draw Sunday, Feb. 7, at Gahanna and the Panthers' home finale Tuesday, Feb. 9, against Hilliard Davidson.

Tigers' Tate joins 1,000-point club

Saying last week was a mixed bag for Central might be an understatement.

The Tigers won two games to stay in the thick of the OCC-Ohio race, and senior guard Jalen Tate scored his 1,000th career point in a 64-49 home win over Grove City on Jan. 29.

But Central was without senior guard Ibi Watson for that game and a Feb. 2 game at Newark. Watson, a Michigan recruit, was ejected in the second half of the win at North as he exchanged words with Montes and was called for two technical fouls.

Per Ohio High School Athletic Association rules, all ejections carry an automatic two-game suspension. Watson is expected to return Friday, Feb. 5, when the Tigers play host to Groveport.

Tate had 1,005 career points before Feb. 2. He finished with 26 points against Grove City, a game in which Sterling Manley added 13 points and Darius Coker scored 11.

Against North, Tate hit a 3-pointer to beat the third-quarter buzzer and kickstart a furious stretch for the Tigers, who outscored the Panthers 27-18 in the fourth quarter.

Central was 15-4 overall and 9-2 in the league, one game behind first-place Gahanna (10-1), before Feb. 2.

"(We have to) just stick together, keep fighting and executing, make tough plays and don't worry about it what we can't change," coach Eric Krueger said. "I pulled Jalen aside (after Watson's ejection) and told him I needed him to lead, and he did that."