By: Zach Fleer / @YS614
Unlike some of the other dominant Northland teams before them, this year’s Viking squad has a knack to keep their composure in close games. As been the case all year long, the Northland Vikings (26-0) won yet another slugfest that went down to the wire, 52-48 over third-seeded Olentangy Liberty (24-2).
Soaring out to a seven point lead after one, 18-11, Northland looked to be too much for the underdog Patriots. Northland’s size and athleticism caused problems for Greg Nossaman’s squad, as Jaylen Tucker and Co. had their way around the basket. Liberty would turn up the defensive pressure in the second period, outscoring Northland 15-6, including a 9-0 run to take their first lead of the game at 21-20. Behind Nick Nossaman’s three-point shooting, Liberty went into halftime leading 26-24, shocking nearly everyone inside the Cox Coliseum.
Northland would flip the script in the third quarter, limiting Liberty to six points in the period to take a 36-32 lead into the fourth.
Both teams would trade knockout blows in the final frame, going back and forth for the majority of the period. In the biggest game of his young career, freshman standout forward Seth Towns put the Vikings ahead 42-41 with a step-back jumper from just inside the three-point line.
Following Liberty’s next possession, Towns came up clutch again, streaking from the top of the key to the cup for another score to give the Vikings a three point lead at 44-41. Mike Deleon would hit one of two free-throws to bring Liberty within two at 44-42 with just over a minute to go.
The freshman Towns would be tested again just a few seconds later, as the 6-foot-7 forward was fouled and sent to the line after a crucial offensive rebound for two very important free-throws. As cool as the other side of the pillow, Towns knocked down both freebies to give Northland a four-point cushion, 46-42 with 1:03 remaining.
Deleon was fouled again on Liberty’s next possession, but the junior forward shockingly missed both free-throws. Armani Towns was fouled following the rebound, and Northland’s lone senior knocked down both at the charity stripe to put Northland ahead 48-42 with 23.7 seconds to go.
After a timeout, Nossaman drained one of five three-point baskets to bring the Patriots within three, 48-45 with 17 seconds remaining. Ty Hairston would hit one of two free-throws on the following possession to put Northland up 49-45. Liberty missed a wide-open three-point attempt on their next possession, and point guard Shemar Waugh sank two more free-throws to give Northland a 51-45 lead with just under ten seconds to go. Nossaman then banked a deep three to again put Liberty within two at 50-48 with 2.7 seconds remaining. Waugh would sink the next two free-throws to secure Northland’s fifth district title in seven years, 52-48.
With the victory, Northland heads into a regional matchup with Canton Timken, who defeated Barberton 38-36 in a district final earlier tonight. Northland had a very balanced scoring output, as three players scored in double-digits, led by Tucker’s 12 points, Waugh’s 11 and Seth Towns’ 10 points. Liberty was led by Nossaman’s 17 points and Alex Radkiewicz’ 12.
Northland continues a successful season, one in which balanced scoring and lockdown defense has been the key to victory. The Vikings have at least five players that can take over a game at any time, and in every close game Northland has played, it’s been a different player that has saved the day. Today’s savior was the freshman Towns, whose six fourth-quarter points proved to be the difference.