Behind Sullinger, Northland upsets top ranked Findlay Prep
When it all matters most, the Northland Vikings know exactly who to go to. Case in point, last March. Tied in the Ohio State Championship Game, Jared Sullinger was fouled with a second remaining against Cincinnati Princeton. Calm and collected at the line, Ohio’s Mr. Basketball knocked down two of three free throws to give Northland it’s first state championship in school history, 70-68. Nine months later, the Vikings would need another spectacular performance from the best player in the land, this time against the best team in the land, the Findlay Prep Pilots out of Las Vegas.
Riding a 45 game winning streak, yes, that’s right 45 games, most of the nation expected the so-called high school basketball program to run #13 Northland up and down the floor, and send the Vikings back to Northcliff Drive with a loss. But with Jared Sullinger in the middle, anything can happen when nobody can guard him. Matched up with Texas signee Tristan Thompson all night, Sullinger had his best performance of his highly celebrated career, scoring 32 points, including 10-10 from the line and 19 rebounds. Sullinger’s two most important points of his career would come later in the game.
Coming into Thursday’s game which was apart of the Old Spice Classic, a 15 year tournament that has hosted such players as LeBron James, the Pilots flew into Columbus averaging 100 points a game, 100! At halftime, they had 15, the same amount Brookhaven put up in the first quarter on Tuesday. The Northland defense was to blame, putting pressure on Findlay’s talented guards Corey Joseph and Nick Johnson, which essentially jet lagged the Pilot offense.
But with Findlay, they have options and plenty of them. The aforementioned Thompson was a wreck in the post, racking up 18 points which caused the Vikings to double team him once he got deep thus creating open shots. Thompson was impressive but at the same time arguably cost the Pilots the game. Multiple times, #12 either traveled in the post or was called for offensive fouls, notoriously the right hook which was used on Sullinger to make up for the difference in talent. The best players are calm during the most crucial of moments and Sullinger was the poster boy of cool and collected on Thursday.
When Northland was down 34-31 in the third, the Vikings put the ball in #34′s hands. Once it reached his palms, nobody was going to stop him. Getting it deep in the paint, Sullinger drove to his right, avoided a defender and went up and over Godwin Okonji for a three point play that swung momentum and virtually changed the game. At times it seemed that the Vikings were going to buckle under pressure, but under the leadership of Trey Burke and Sullinger, the defending state champs and arguably the best team in the country made up for the loss of JD Weatherspoon whose absence was credited to an ankle injury.
Burke, who came into the game in the shadow of Findlay’s Corey Joseph, outperformed Joseph, who according to ESPN Rise is one of the top players in the Class of 2010. Breaking the press and driving effectively in the lane, Burke also mixed it up with his three point shot, something that has become a trademark of his relatively young career. Finishing the game with 10 points, Burke was key to the victory but the rest goes to Sullinger.
In the fourth quarter when it mattered most, Sullinger came up clutch for Northland. With a little less than four minutes remaining, Northland was tied 49-49, at that point Jared had scored the last 12 points of offense for the home team. Leading 51-50 with less than a minute remaining, it looked like Findlay was going to hold the ball for the final 50 seconds and go for the win. As Joseph drove to the hoop, an up and under pump fake froze Burke in the air and the Pilots regained the lead with eight ticks left on the clock. Opting not to go for the timeout, the Vikings once again went to Sullinger. Guarding him was Thompson, who was still in the game even with four fouls. Showcasing his incredible ball handling skills, Sullinger drove down the baseline and before cutting to the hoop, Thompson was called for a reach, his fifth of the game and tenth for Findlay, who now gave Northland a clear chance to win. Nine months from his epic performance over Princeton, the circumstances were all the same. With four seconds left, Sullinger was alone at the line. Ice water was in his veins and nothing was going to faze these next two free throws. Sinking the first, the 4,000 fans in Rike Arena were blessed with a sigh of relief. The next one was most important and with a smile on his face, nothing but net.
Northland, who had five fouls, played smart on the inbounds play. As Joseph drove down the floor, Ke’Chaun Lewis, who had been effective on defense the entire game, fouled Joseph and left Findlay with 1.7 seconds to get a shot off. The next play was one to remember for Northland fans and all of Columbus as Joseph’s shot hit the back of the rim and the Vikings were now #1. Even in a game where the dynamic Weatherspoon did not play, Sullinger put the team on his back and as always came out victorious.
Click here to see Cap City Prep’s recap of the game, one of the only videos out there!