COLUMBUS, Ohio -- In a rematch of a 2019 Division I district final, Thomas Worthington got revenge and overcame the roadblock that was Pickerington North, 52-48.
Behind a career-high 22 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks from Tyrese Hughey, Thomas Worthington exorcised its demons in the district finals and cut down their first pair of nets since 2001.
Out of the gate, Thomas Worthington was the aggressor, jumping out to an early 8-4 lead.
Behind the play of super senior Chris Scott, a Cincinnati football signee, North tied the game at eight right before the final buzzer. Scott went way out of bounds to save a loose ball and moments later scored a tough spinning layup against length to knot the score at the end of one.
The second quarter was much more of an offensive scoring fest with the teams combining for 40 points.
Thomas Worthington again jumped out to a four-point lead on multiple occasions, however, just like the first quarter, North would not be denied.
After a tough pull up three from Jalen Sullinger gave Thomas Worthington a 24-20 lead with 2:38 remaining in the half.
North struck back with a 9-0 run sparked from the play of Scott and sophomore guard Jerry Saunders, as an and-one score from the senior Scott gave the Panthers a 29-24 lead with 35.4 seconds to go.
On its final possession of the half, Thomas Worthington got some good fortune when junior wing Maurice Collins drained his second three of the period, helping the Cardinals trim the deficit to two at 29-27 at the half.
In his first district final game since transferring in from Licking Heights, junior forward Tyrese Hughey showed exactly why people were so excited about Thomas Worthington coming into the season. Imposing his will on the interior, Hughey began to dominate the game as his presence on the block became too much for North to overcome.
After North took a 33-31 lead with 3:15 remaining in the third, Hughey began his ascension. With two big and-one finishes over the next three minutes, Hughey helped fuel an 8-0 run for the Cardinals that helped Thomas Worthington take a 39-33 lead into the final frame.
Hughey had his highlight play moments later as a big baseline contact dunk from the junior gave Thomas a 41-36 lead with 5:51 remaining.
North did not back down however, as seniors Scott and Savion Marshall-Hamilton combined for a few tough interior plays to cut the lead to one at 47-46 with 34.5 seconds left on the clock.
In a game that was dominated by him all game long, Hughey was the perfect man to head to the line with the Cardinals nursing a one-point lead with six seconds separating Thomas from its first district title in 19 years.
While he hasn't always been the most consistent shooter, Hughey stepped up when it mattered most, knocking down two clutch free throws and extending the Thomas lead to three at 50-47.
With the length of the floor to go and six seconds left, Pickerington North attempted to set senior Hunter Shedenhelm up for a three, however, Thomas' Collins instinctively fouled Scott with 1.8 seconds to go, all but ensuring a Cardinals district title victory.
Two free throws from junior Isaac Settles increased the lead to four moments later, as Thomas finally got over the hump in the district final round after dropping games at this stage in the season in 2003, 2005, 2008 and 2019.
Hughey saved the best performance of his career for the biggest game yet, going for a career-best 22 points, 10 rebounds, five blocks and three steals. The 6-foot-7 junior was a force around the rim, finishing at a high level, controlling the glass and serving as a strong rim deterrent.
Outside of Hughey, juniors Sullinger, Collins, Omari Effiong and Settles combined for the rest of Thomas' offense. Sullinger started off strong with nine points in the first half, while Effiong added five points and a handful of impactful defensive plays.
For North, Scott had a big-time game with 17 points and six rebounds. The Cincinnati football signee was the most physical player in the gym despite only standing at 6-foot-2, getting to the line at will and finishing strong around the basket.
Fellow senior Marshall-Hamilton did an outstanding job on Hughey, finishing with 11 points, 10 rebounds and a handful of key hustle plays. Sophomore guard Dior Conner added eight points off the bench, while Shedenhelm was held to just one field goal and six points.
The sophomore guard Saunders did a solid job defending Sullinger in the second half and finished with six points. In what ended up being a key to the win for Thomas, North junior guard Casey George was held scoreless in an unusual afternoon for him after a breakout season.
Thomas Worthington moves on to its first regional tournament in 19 years and will face the winner of No. 13 Westerville Central and No. 18 Delaware Hayes, which is a gift for the Cardinals after both No. 3 South and No. 4 Pickerington Central were knocked out in the district semifinals.
The Cardinals will return to the floor on Thurs., March 12 at 7 p.m. at Ohio Dominican.