Jordan Horston loved the way she and her teammates on the Africentric Early College girls basketball team responded when they trailed by 20 points in what ended up being a 60-52 loss to Division I-power Newark on Jan. 31.
A little less than two months later, the same fight Horston saw from her team that night is what she believes helped lead the Nubians to the Division III state championship.
Africentric beat Versailles 53-47 in the state final March 17 at Ohio State, making it one of three programs with six titles.
Later that day, Pickerington Central became the only program to win seven titles when it beat Solon 49-45 in the Division I final.
"I knew we had the team that would get it done when we were playing Newark, and we were down by 20 but we still fought back and tried to work together as a team," Horston said. "We bounced right back. (In a regional final win over) Berlin Hiland, we came back from down six with (less than two minutes remaining). Our heads were all the right way and this was the team that could get it done."
Horston, a junior guard who was named district Player of the Year and co-state Player of the Year, played a huge role in setting the tone with her ball-handling and defense against a Versailles team that finished 28-2 and was first in the final state poll.
She had 13 points, eight rebounds, two assists and two steals against the Tigers.
Sophomore guard Alexia Smith led all scorers with 22 points on 9-for-16 shooting from the field and also had two steals, and sophomore guard Nyam Thornton added nine points and three steals.
The Nubians, who were ranked sixth in the final state poll and finished 27-3 overall, were outrebounded 36-30 but forced 17 turnovers and limited the Tigers to 17-for-44 shooting (38.6 percent) from the field.
Africentric led Versailles 15-8 after the first quarter and maintained the lead for the remainder of the game aside from a 51-second stretch midway through the fourth quarter.
"We thought we had a great team and a team that could get the job done," Smith said. "We just felt a lot of confidence going into the tournament."
Africentric, which opened in the fall of 2003, won its first state title in 2007 and followed with championships in 2009, 2012, '14 and '16.
Last season, the Nubians lost to Gates Mills Gilmour Academy 65-54 in a state semifinal. Gilmour Academy then beat Versailles 56-54 in the title game.
Africentric beat Ready 63-23 in a district final March 2 and followed with regional wins over Minford (73-45 on March 7) and Hiland (61-60 in overtime March 10) and a 50-37 victory over Ottawa-Glandorf in a state semifinal March 15.
The Nubians made their postseason run despite having just one key senior in forward Iyanna Hairston.
The starters in the state final were Horston, Smith, Thornton, junior center Kazhmere Smith-Hopgood and freshman forward Maliyah Johnson. Sophomore center Sakima Walker, junior forward Tearra Cook and freshman forward Arianna Smith also saw action in the title game.
Also this season, Africentric won its 10th City League championship in 15 seasons under coach Will McKinney, beating Northland 44-43 in the City final Feb. 10. The Nubians went 14-0 in the City-South Division.
"We've been to this (state tournament) nine times, and this is our sixth time winning," McKinney said. "When you've got a bunch of youth on your team, it's not expected, but I must say this road to get to this point ... I can't explain just how proud I am of these young ladies."
Nubians boys heading to state tourney
For the first time since making back-to-back appearances in 2011 and '12, the Africentric boys basketball team is headed to the state tournament.
The Nubians take a 21-6 record into a Division III state semifinal against No. 1-ranked Harvest Prep (28-0) at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, March 22, at Ohio State.
The winner plays Cleveland Heights Lutheran East or Cincinnati Deer Park in the state final at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 24, at Ohio State.
Africentric, which was 10th in the final state poll, edged Archbold 42-39 in a regional final March 17 at Bowling Green on a 3-pointer at the buzzer by Tre' Baumgardner.
"Congratulations, now we get to play (Harvest) Prep," coach Michael Bates said. "Coach (David) Dennis does a great job with his kids and congratulations to them for making it back to the final four again. We like the way we're playing right now. I like our mojo, they're loose, they're having fun but they're extremely focused, and that's what it's all about."
Baumgardner, who was named district Player of the Year, had 20 points against Archbold.
Harvest Prep features a pair of talented guards in senior C.J. Penha and sophomore C.J. Anthony, both of whom made first-team all-district.
The Warriors beat Sugarcreek Garaway 59-53 in overtime in their regional final March 17 to make it back to state for the first time since 2015.
Penha made a pair of free throws with 11 seconds left to tie the game at 48 and force overtime, and the Warriors made five of six free throws during the final two minutes of overtime to seal the victory.
The last time the programs met was in 2015, with the Nubians winning 50-39 in the second game of the regular season but losing 70-62 in a Division IV regional final.
Lutheran East improved to just 14-13 with a 46-37 victory over Canton Central Catholic in a regional final March 17, but it won last year's Division IV state title.
Deer Park, which was ranked second in the final state poll, beat Madeira 65-55 in its regional final March 17 to improve to 27-0.
The Nubians beat Carey 62-40 in a regional semifinal March 14 at Bowling Green behind 21 points from Jah Bennett.
Bennett had just two points in the regional final, but according to Bates, got a key steal in the final minute to help set up the game-winning shot.
"Tre' set a ball screen, then we had Jah Bennett and Dorian Holloway both set double-flare screens for Tre'," Bates said. "Calijha'won Davis passed it and as soon as (Baumgardner) shot it, the buzzer went. I knew he was going to make that (shot) and it was amazing."
Beechcroft boys fall in regional semifinal
The Beechcroft boys basketball team's first appearance in the Division II regional tournament since 2007 ended with a 67-59 loss to Bay Village Bay in a semifinal March 15 at Bowling Green.
With a six-member senior class that included five key players, the Cougars finished 25-2 overall and also won their first City League championship since 1983.
"It was a good run," coach Humphrey Simmons said. "Despite this loss, we had a special season."
Senior guard Teon Jennings did not play against Bay because of an injury sustained during a 70-56 victory over Hartley in a district final March 10.
Senior guard Jelani Simmons, a Youngstown State recruit who averaged 18.5 points and was named district Player of the Year, was held to nine points against Bay while senior guard Datrey Long and senior forward Elijah Bishop both scored 14.
The Cougars were limited to 4-for-8 from the free-throw line while Bay made 18 of 27 free throws.
The other key senior for Beechcroft was Ther'Ron Jennings, who averaged 12.5 points and was second-team all-district.
Long averaged 16.5 points and was first-team all-district, while Humphrey Simmons was named district Coach of the Year.
Junior forward Na'elle Simmons, who averaged 6.5 points, and junior guards Elijah Hairston and Jovaughn Hill should be the top returnees for the Cougars, who defeated Eastmoor Academy 71-66 in the City championship game Feb. 17 after going 14-0 in the City-North.
South boys season ends at regional
The South boys basketball team was not able to defend its City League championship, but its season included a second Division II district title in four seasons.
After avenging a pair of regular-season losses to Eastmoor with a 64-54 victory in a district final March 10, the Bulldogs lost to Trotwood-Madison 79-60 in a regional semifinal March 15 at Kettering Fairmont.
South finished 22-5.
"In 2015 when we won district, it was just exciting to go (to regional)," coach Ramon Spears said. "This year, we were in and put ourselves in position to win. We were only down by nine in the second quarter and by two at halftime. We had a decent third quarter, but in the fourth, we turned the ball over more and lost some confidence. (Trotwood-Madison) went on a 6-0 run and we couldn't come back from that, but we were controlling the tempo until then."
South is losing eight seniors, led by Jaedyn Carter and Jeremiah Green, who averaged eight and seven points, respectively, as well as Wesley Williams, a St. Leo recruit who averaged six points.
Carter and Green were named honorable mention all-district.
Junior guard Treohn Watkins averaged a team-high 13.5 points and was second-team all-district, and sophomore wing player Marcus Johnson averaged nine points and made third-team all-district.
"We're losing eight seniors, but we've got some juniors and sophomores who stepped up a lot," Spears said.