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New King in the City: Northland stuns Africentric

By Greg Glasser, 02/11/23, 4:00PM EST


Led behind their star freshman, Vikings win a 60-58 thriller

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Nubians no longer hold the throne and there's a new King in town.  In front of a lively sold out crowd at East High, Northland defeated the defending champs and upset Africentric 60-58 to win their first City League Championship since 2016.

In a back-and-forth affair, the Vikings were led behind their all conference freshman King Kendrick, who led with a game-high 33 points, but none more important than the final two at the free throw line with the game tied and 3.6 seconds left that sealed Northland's title. 

The Vikings let a three-point halftime advantage turn into a six-point deficit as they entered the final period. Nubians senior and Xavier commit Dailyn Swain had shown off why he is a top 100 national recruit and scored nine of his team high 28 points in a dominating third quarter. That, however, would be the last of his scoring output, as the Vikings defense threw all of their attention at the senior wing, which caused a significant disruption to the Nubians offense.

"[Northland] was running three defenders at Swain," Africentric head coach Michael Bates said. "He played hard offensively and defensively, so he was probably wearing down a bit as well." 

The extra pressure on Swain led to a further lack of execution for the Nubians on both ends. Without all-conference junior wing Cortez Freeman, who was unavailable due to a suspension, Africentric struggled to find much consistenty across the board. 

"We rushed some stuff, missed some shots. I think we went 3-of-11 on attempts," Bates said. "A missed box out here, a missed screen there, we forgot what to do on a play, missed free throws. In a game like this, you have to make sure all the small details are in, dot every 'i', cross every 't', and we did not do that in the fourth quarter." 

Meanwhile, the Vikings possessed a confidence from opening tip that indicated they had no fear of the underdog role. Beyond King's brilliance, Northland had a tenacious defensive approach that forced uncharacteristic turnovers along with difficult finishes for the Nubians. 

"It was definitely a team effort and we hung our hat on the defensive end," Northland head coach Tihon Johnson said. "We're some dogs, we're gritty, we fight." 

Dogs, absolutely, but Johnson slightly scotched at the notion of being underdogs. "From the preseason, we ended every huddle with '1, 2, 3 - champs.' We knew what we wanted. There's no back down or fearlessness with us."

The fearlessness and confidence of their head coach clearly trickled down the roster, none more evident than from Kendrick. "We believed we are just prepared to fight, fight, fight," Kendrick said. "The thought of being intimated never crossed our mind. Maybe a little nervousness, just because of the atmosphere, but never intimated to believe we couldn't achieve this." 

And how about some extra nerves when faced with two game-winning free throws?

"Yeah,  I was a little bit nervous," Kendrick said with a laugh. "But I told myself, 'whatever happens, happens. Let's knock 'em down and win the game.'"

Kendrick was the star and talk of the day, but as his coach shared, it was a team effort. Senior Latrell Ucker scored all ten of his points in the first half, along with a team high six rebounds and a stellar defensive effort. He was joined by fellow senior Drew Roland who added eight points, while junior Santonio Dortch added four points, five rebounds and two blocks. Senior Davion Bridges made a two-way impact at the guard position with five points, three assists and three steals.

For Africentric, Swain scored nearly half of his teams points and only senior forward Preston Steele also hit double digits with his 13 points along with nine rebounds. The Nubians had five other players score, but no one beyond six points. In such a contested contest where consistent shot-making was an issue, the Nubians certainly missed out on the play-making ability of Freeman.

"It goes without saying [Freeman's absence] was a challenge," Bates said. "But we can't use that as an excuse. We firmly had an opportunity to win, but didn't execute down the stretch."

Despite an inability to achieve their goal of a City League title, Africentric still has legitimate aspirations to complete their next three goals; a district, regional and state championship in Division III. 

"We need to be disappointed, need to feel bad, look at the film and learn from it," Bates said. "At the same time, we gotta let it go. We will get back in the gym and focus on winning a district title. Now we know we hadn't been doing the little things and now to focus in practice on those things."

Africentric will start tournament play on February 22 when they host Cristo Rey in the sectional semifinals. Northland will look to build on their momentum and prepare for a Division I sectional semifinal against Reynoldsburg on February 21.

"We're going to try our best, believe in ourselves, put in the work to get a district championship" Kendrick said. "Wherever we go, win or lose, we're going to fight."

With a similar belief and approach that the Vikings possessed on Saturday, the City League Champions may have the fight to make a district title a possibility.

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