COLUMBUS, Ohio -- And then there was one. Standing one game away from a division title and appearance in the City League Championship, Northland might have been caught looking ahead on Thursday against East. Luckily for the Vikings, N'Keeley Elmore wears a Northland jersey.
In a game that was delayed nearly a week due to weather cancellations, Northland survived disaster in overtime, as Elmore's career-high 39 points helped the Vikings edge East 71-62.
With the win, Northland remains in the lead in the City League North, as it will need to knock off Centennial on Friday to win a division title.
That pressure might have caused Northland to take East lightly in an always-tricky game against the Tigers that once again came down to the wire. East had plenty of chances down the stretch, but for what seems like the millionth time in the last three years, the Tigers were not able to knock out the bully in Northland when it mattered most.
In a fast-paced start, both teams traded buckets back and forth for the majority of the first quarter. East struck the harder blow, jumping out to an 18-13 lead after a quarter of play. In the second quarter, Northland and junior guard Devan White helped turn up the pressure cooker, relying on a bevy of steals to regain the lead at 32-30 going into the break.
With Elmore scoring just 11 points in the first half, Northland was in for a second half performance of epic proportions. From the jump, Elmore commanded the second half, as his steal and score on the opening possession set the tone for what was about to happen.
When it seemed as if Northland was ready to take a commanding lead, East never backed down. Senior guard Ar'mon Mackey's excellent third quarter helped the Tigers remain within earshot of the lead, trailing 47-43 heading into the final frame.
After persistently chipping away at the Northland lead for the first five and a half minutes of the fourth, a huge putback from East junior Xzayvier Brown-Anderson gave them a 54-53 advantage with 2:24 to play.
Northland freshman Robert Dorsey III was fouled on the ensuing possession and made both, giving the Vikings the lead once again, only to be answered by a tough driving score from Mackey to help East regain control, leading 56-55 with 1:58 to go.
Northland sophomore Jason Foster missed the back end of a one-and-one on the next possession, and East answered with a tough free-throw line bank shot from senior Ty'Lei Tate to put them in a great postion, leading 58-56 with 1:22 to play in the contest.
Junior big Isaiah Ingle was fouled underneath on the next possession for Northland and knocked down a clutch two free-throws to tie the game at 58.
With both teams failing to score in the final minute, we found ourselves headed to overtime tied at 58-58.
On one hand, East had nothing to lose going into the overtime. On another, Northland had everything to lose.
Dominating the overtime, Elmore scored the first eight points of the extra frame. After knocking down a clutch triple to start it out, Keeley lived at the stripe. Hitting five of six free throws in a two and a half minute stint, he helped the Vikings jump out to a 66-58 ovetime lead on his own 8-0 run.
This was too much for East, as they fell apart late. Struggling to hit free-throws and hold onto the ball, it was all Northland for the entire overtime, as East did not find their first points of the frame come until the 2:11 mark.
They were led by their backcourt play, as Mackey (18 points) and junior Cedric Norvett (17 points) combined to score 35 points. Senior wing Ty'Lei Tate also turned in a solid outing of 16 points and eight rebounds.
Elmore put on the performance of a lifetime tonight, creating all of the energy in the gym and fueling Northland to the victory. He finished with a career-high 39 points, four rebounds, and four steals.
Sophomore Makhale Massey also contributed 13 points and White chipped in with seven while the Vikings once again found a way to get it done.
N’Keeley Elmore (5’9 PG / Northland / 2019): Elmore showed once again that he’s one of the most seasoned veterans in the City League, dominating East’s guards all night and helping his team keep their hope of a City League Championship alive. A lightning quick guard going end-to-end, this game was the perfect style of play for Keeley, as most up-tempo league games are for Northland.
Consistently breaking the press as the lead ball handler for the VIkings, he found easy paths into the lane after blowing past the Tiger guards. Once he was into the lane, he scored with a plethora of excellent finishes, using great body control and soft touch to generate points in the paint. He looked to score first, but also created for teammates, dropping off several good passes to the Viking bigs after drawing their man over in need of help. He showed off a good outside flick as well, as no three-pointer in the game was bigger than his deep triple from the wing to begin overtime. He was locked in at the charity stripe all night as well, as he made five-of-six free-throws in overtime to push the Vikings to this win.
On defense, Elmore gave the East guards problems all night as his extremely quick feet, some of the best I have seen all season, did not allow them to get around him and into the lane. He showed to have very active hands when locking down the guards as well, picking up four steals and becoming an instant break starter for the Vikings every time.
An experienced senior who can put up just as good of numbers as any guard in the Columbus City League, Elmore can score, defend, and stays within the system, and is a no-brainer for any Juco program looking for another guard to add to their class.
Cedric Norvett (5’10 PG / East / 2020): The leader of East tonight offensively, Norvett’s shot-making ability helped the Tigers stay within Northland all night and almost pull off the upset. He knocked down a handful of tough perimeter shots, showing off confidence, a smooth shot, and a quick flip from the outside. He scored from all three levels, knocking down the three, hitting the mid-range, and scoring in the lane. I was really impressed with his ability to hit shots both off the catch and the pull-up, as this is a trait plays a great role in developing a good scorer. He has a tight handle, as he handled the Northland pressure well all night when they threw their full court press at the Tigers. He had his share of turnovers, but this will happen in the fast-paced, trapping, and pressing Columbus City League style against Northland.
An excellent offensive-minded guard, Norvett could develop into a real scoring threat in the City League next season as East will lose their other two top scorers in Ty’Lei Tate and Armon Mackey. We’re interested to see the progression of Cedric’s career as he has burst onto the scene with several good viewings this season.
Armon Mackey (6’0 WG / East / 2019): Mackey was the sidekick that Norvett needed to keep East around all night, as he scored off of several good looks from the junior and also scored on his own. A relentless guard who gets into the lane at will, he has a tight handle and can get by guys off the dribble, which is how he scores most of his points. Though he is a slasher, he showed off a good perimeter shot in the contest, knocking down a deep wing three in a big spot for his team. He’s the clear senior leader of this team, as he’s the most vocal player on the team and keeps his guys together all night on a team in which it may be tough to do so at times.
On defense, he was fired up all night and it showed when he slapped the floor on several Northland possessions. He plays tight on-ball defense and his energy plays a great role in allowing him to do a good job in it. He makes quick jumps in the press and showed off good IQ on several occasions by making good reads.
Overall, he’s a solid slasher who could be a good Juco get for a program who wants a player who is willing to do his time and develop in the system yet still has loads of unveiled potential both scoring the ball and defending.