By: Zach Fleer / @YS614
Three years ago, David defeated Goliath. In the 2010 regional final at the Fairgrounds Coliseum, Northland, the nation’s No. 1 team, led by Jared Sullinger and Trey Burke was dispatched 71-45 to an underdog Gahanna Lincoln squad in arguably the biggest upset in recent history. On Saturday evening, each team enters the Coliseum for another regional final with similar implications.
Coming into Saturday with a 27-0 record, Northland has been rolling through tournament time. Following a 74-47 victory over Canton Timken in the regional semifinals on Wednesday, the Vikings have now outscored their opponents by an average of 30.6 points per game in tournament play. Different from other Northland teams in the past, this year’s Vikings are balanced and resilient, especially when it matters most. Northland was led by Armani Towns’ 18 points on Wednesday, while Jaylen Tucker (15 points) and Seth Towns (13 points) also provided a scoring spark. Northland used their constant pressure to disrupt the flow of Timken’s offense from the start, allowing the Vikings to force turnovers and convert easy baskets. Northland outscored the Trojans 26-6 in the second quarter, putting the game away well before halftime.
The Lions of Gahanna Lincoln (22-5) also come into Saturday’s mega-matchup clicking on all cylinders. Lincoln has won nine straight games, including two victories over Jae’Sean Tate and Pickerington Central, Division I’s defending state champion. Contrary to Northland, every tournament game Gahanna has played has been a battle. Lincoln won close vs. Reynoldsburg on March 6, 42-38, and then again on Thursday vs. Pickerington Central, 53-50. Led by Akron commit Aaron Jackson and rising junior Javon Bess in the scoring department, the Lions have also relied on senior guard Ronnie Stokes Jr. to pressure opposing ball handlers to create turnovers and get into the fast break. Lincoln’s bench has also been pivotal in the team’s success this tournament season, as Manny Powell has been the team’s offensive spark coming off the pine. Powell scored 11 points in last night’s victory over Central, none bigger than the back-to-back three-point baskets the junior hit to put Lincoln ahead in the second quarter.
- Mifflin: Gahanna opened up their 2012-’13 season with a 102-59 victory over the Punchers. Northland defeated Mifflin both times in league play this season, 89-57 on Dec. 21, and 81-48 on Jan. 15.
- East: Gahanna defeated East at home on Dec. 8, 52-43. Northland defeated the Tigers twice in league play, 91-47 on Dec. 11, and then 60-46 on Jan. 29.
- Pickerington Central: Northland beat the Tigers at home on Dec. 8, 58-42. Gahanna won two of three meetings vs. Pick Central, 72-62 on Feb. 15, and then again in the regional semifinals on Wednesday, 53-50. Gahanna’s loss came at home on Jan. 11, 59-46.
- Northland: Dec. 1 vs. Toledo Rogers. In the first game of Northland’s season, the Vikings topped Toledo Rogers, 71-69 in the Clark Kellogg Classic. Rogers takes on Brecksville-Broadview Heights on Saturday in the Toledo regional final at 3 p.m.
- Dec. 8 vs. Pickerington Central. As mentioned above, Northland took down the Columbus 1 district champion Pickerington Central, even when Central had star forward Taco Charlton. Charlton was an early enrollee at the University of Michigan for this upcoming football season.
- Jan. 5 at Cleveland St. Ignatius. Northland topped the No. 1 seed in the Solon district 62-54 on the road to open up 2013. St. Ignatius was defeated by Shaker Heights in a district final matchup two weeks ago.
- In City-League action, Northland topped Division II power Brookhaven twice, by a combined four points.
- In non-league tournament action, Northland topped quality opponents, Wilmington (Jan. 19, 64-57), and Mansfield Senior (Jan. 26, 59-52).
- Northland’s last two tournament wins have came against quality competition. The Vikings handed Olentangy Liberty only their second loss of the season on March 9, 52-48. Northland put an end to Canton Timken’s magical tournament run on Wednesday in a 74-47 rout.
- Gahanna Lincoln: Playing in a stacked OCC-Ohio conference, the Lions came out victorious in various league wins. These include: Dec. 14 @ Newark, 68-57, Dec. 30 vs. Reynoldsburg, 65-43, Feb. 12 vs. Newark, 68-51, and Feb. 15 @ Pickerington Central, 72-62.
- Jan. 27 vs. Garfield Heights. Gahanna defeated Dave Bell and Garfield Heights, 57-49 at Walsh University in the Dunk 4 Diabetes Shootout. Javon Bess led the Lions with 21 points.
- In their last three tournament games, Lincoln has played three straight league opponents, facing each team for a third time. As mentioned earlier, Lincoln defeated Reynoldsburg, Newark and Pickerington Central in back-to-back-to-back games.
Prediction: In a game that could go either way, I see Northland prevailing in the final moments of the fourth quarter, 56-50. Gahanna Lincoln’s size and athleticism will be enough to match up with Northland, but I see the Vikings doing what they have done all year long in close games. Shemar Waugh vs. Ronnie Stokes will be a very intriguing matchup. Each point guard plays a similar role for their teams. I’m interested to see how Gahanna handles Northland’s full court trap. I’m also very interested to see who Northland uses to defend Jackson and Bess. With Seth Towns, Armani Towns and Jaylen Tucker, the Vikings have a trio of athletic defenders to play with. I have a feeling Derek McKeithen and Ty Hairston are going to come up huge on Saturday to help advance Northland to the state semifinals to face the winner of Shaker Heights and Mentor.