DUBLIN, Ohio -- For 21 games this season, Westerville North has been waiting for things to click. That moment may have just happened in the final game of the regular season.
Facing a 48-38 deficit on the road at Dublin Jerome (14-8) with 7:33 to go, Westerville North (12-10) responded with a 27-13 backbreaking run to come away with a 65-61 win.
Senior guard Jeremiah Keene stepped up in a major way in the fourth quarter, coming back from a slow start to lead North to a big win. Keene scored nine points in the fourth quarter, while dishing off three major assists and helping North create turnovers to get its transition game going.
Scoring 35 points through three quarters, North seemed to be sleep walking against a Jerome team that controlled the first 24 minutes. Leading by as much as 12 points in the second half, Jerome took its foot off the gas in the fourth quarter when it went up 48-38 with 7:33 to go.
This is where things went south for Jerome. Responding with an 11-0 run in the next two and a half minutes, North took its first lead of the game at 49-48 on a right hand drive from Keene with 5:07 to go.
Seconds later, Jerome took the lead back on an inside score from senior forward Trey Ballengee, however, that advantage was short lived. Waiting 26 minutes to register his first field goal, North senior forward Philip Alston came alive at the right time, as back-to-back inside scores from the 6-foot-5 senior put North ahead 53-50 with 3:27 remaining.
Jerome fought back hard, as another strong inside score from Ballengee trimmed the lead to 53-52. While it appeared Ballengee was fouled on the play, no blow of the whistle was made until seconds after the basket when Jerome head coach Richie Beard was called for a technical.
This trigged a four-point swing for North, after freshman guard Noah Lawrence knocked down two free throws and Alston had another strong score inside to put the Warriors up 57-52 with 2:15 to go.
Jerome got no closer than three points the rest of the way, as Keene scored two more buckets and dished off two more assists to lead the Warriors to an emphatic win.
Struggling all season long at 11-10 coming into the game, North spent most of the season looking like the team we saw for three quarters on Tuesday.
Exploding for 30 points in the final frame, North showed the high-level potential that this team has, as Keene put the Warriors on his shoulders and led them to a crucial victory in the face of adversity.
Keene was Tuesday's MVP, scoring 12 of his 16 points in the final 10 minutes of the game. The 6-foot-1 guard added eight rebounds, five assists and two steals to his stat line, as he did an excellent job of setting his teammates up in the second half.
Lawrence was the difference off the bench, adding a game-high 17 points. Scoring 17 in both the first and last games of the regular season, the freshman guard showed flashes of the potential he has as a scorer, while going 7-of-7 at the line.
With four players in double digits, North got great production from its front court as well, as junior forward Charles Perkins added 14 points and seven rebounds. Perkins had eight of the team's 10 points in the first quarter, helping the Warriors stay within striking distance before helping to close the game down the stretch.
Alston had six of his 10 points in the 27-13 run to end the game, in addition to seven rebounds and four big blocks. The 6-foot-5 forward was engaged on both ends of the floor and served as an eraser at the rim for the Warriors.
For Jerome, the Celtics suffer a tough loss after playing near flawless basketball for 25 minutes. Falling apart in the final seven minutes, Jerome loses a game that it easily could have won.
Junior guard Dan Lee led the Celtics with 14 points, scoring seven of those in a 7-0 run to end the first half which put Jerome up 34-24. Lee was held to two points in the second half, as Jerome really struggled when he was off the floor.
Ballengee continued his strong senior season with 13 points and two blocks, scoring at will in the paint. Senior guard Joseph Gatien added eight points and seven rebounds while seniors Matthew Montgomery and Cam Kerns each added seven points.
We loved the hustle shown from junior wing Derek Sanders, who added five points, two rebounds and two steals.
A team that is really hard to beat when they're making shots from behind the three-point line, Jerome struggled to stretch the floor on Tuesday, knocking down just three triples on the night. Jerome's sloppy ball handling and inability to defend in transition in the fourth quarter ultimately did them in.
With the regular season in the books, North enters the tournament with a first round bye. The Warriors will return to the floor on the first of March to take on the winner of Logan and Grove City. If the Warriors match up with Logan, North will have a challenge on its hands against a Chieftains team that plays a lot like Jerome, but with more firepower in senior superstar Bo Myers.
For Jerome, the Celtics will hit the road to take on No. 10 Canal Winchester in the sectional semifinals on Saturday at 1 p.m. Jerome will need to play a complete game in order to take down an Indians team that can get hot in a hurry.
Jeremiah Keene (6'1 CG / Westerville North / 2019): While always having the tools to be a deadly scorer, Keene has been working the last three years to evolve as a playmaker and leader. He might have just had his aha moment on Tuesday, as he rounded the troops and put the Warriors on his back to come away with a big win in a game where North could have easily given up.
Keene impressed as a ball handler and creator, putting pressure on Jerome's defense while keeping the ball on a string and showing off strong vision to the weak side to go along with crisp passing touch. The 6-foot-1 guard played a complete game, finishing with 16 points, eight rebounds, five assists and two steals.
The senior knocked down two threes and had a few impressive finishes at the rim, showing off the strong body control and elite first step that he possesses. Keene has all the athletic tools to be a big-time creator as a lead ball handler, and he put it all to use in the fourth quarter.
If we can get the version of Keene that was shown in the fourth quarter on Tuesday, North will have a chance to make a run in the tournament, as the rest of the Warriors rotation played at a high level around Keene in the final eight minutes.
Receiving an offer from Division II powerhouse Lincoln Memorial last week, Keene will visit LMU this weekend. That could end up being the perfect fit for Keene, as former North standout Julius Brown is a starting guard for the Railsplitters as a true freshman - as LMU values athletic guards that can score and create for others, traits that Keene has and will keep improving on.
Noah Lawrence (6'0 PG / Westerville North / 2022): Lawrence splashed onto the scene in his first ever game two months ago with 17 points. He duplicated that performance on Tuesday, going for 17 off the bench to help North come away with a big win.
The freshman guard is a talented scorer who does not lack for confidence one bit. Knocking down a pair of threes, going 7-for-7 at the line and showing off versatility as a finisher, Lawrence showed us why he is one of the very best freshman guards in the area.
The 6-foot guard hit two catch and shoot threes, finished a high arching floater over length in the lane and had an acrobatic off hand And-1 finish through contact. Lawrence plays with good pace, doesn't make many mistakes and doesn't try to do too much.
We love the confidence he plays with, as he led all scorers in a game dominated by upperclassmen. Look for Lawrence to really step up next season as the primary ball handler for North. Capable of playing both on and off the ball, Lawrence has plenty of marketable traits as a high IQ lead guard that can score in a variety of ways.
Trey Ballengee (6'4 WF / Dublin Jerome / 2019): A first-team All-OCC Cardinal selection, Ballengee was terrific as an interior scorer on Tuesday. Doing an excellent job of getting to his spots and posting up smaller defenders, Ballengee was deadly from six feet and in, knocking down five fadeaway and turnaround jumpers to go along with a contested three from the top of the key.
An athletic wing with an elite academic profile, Ballengee is a NO BRAINER for regional Division III programs and would be a quality preferred walk on for Division II programs looking for a high motor guy with intangibles and toughness. While Ballengee is still coming along as a perimeter scorer, he has plenty of go-to moves around the basket and is an efficient scorer that plays within his strengths.
Ballengee finished with 13 points, three rebound and two blocks on Tuesday, playing a tough two-way game.
Charles Perkins (6'4 PF / Westerville North / 2020): A player that has continued to impress us since his sophomore season, Perkins was very good in the win on Tuesday. The 6-foot-4 forward is one of the very best post scorers in the 2020 class, as he uses his big lower body and broad shoulders to finish around the rim.
Perkins does a good job of getting to his spots, as he's strong enough to score through contact, as he had multiple finishes on Tuesday where he went up through multiple defenders. Primarily a threat from either block, Perkins showed off nice touch and form on a catch and shoot baseline jumper from 14 feet out. With a nice skill set as a post scorer with footwork and patience, Perkins finished with 14 points and seven rebounds on Tuesday.
The 6-foot-4 junior clears space as a rebounder and is a reliable finisher around the rim who becomes really effective when Keene breaks down a defense and gets into the lane. Look for Perkins to have a strong summer before a senior season where he could end up being North's top scorer.
Dan Lee (6'0 PG / Dublin Jerome / 2020): Lee has been a breakout player in the OCC this season, earning second team honors in the Cardinal division in his first season on varsity.
Getting off to a hot start with 12 of his 14 points in the first half, Lee showed off the versatile playmaking ability he has as a lead guard. Knocking down a three off the dribble from the right wing and a catch and shoot three in the corner, Lee accompanied that with two contested mid-range jumpers and a 4-for-4 performance at the line.
Jerome's only reliable ball handler, Lee was needed in all aspects of the game on Tuesday, as he pushes this team to a higher level and gives them an edge that they did not have last season. Finishing with 14 points, five rebounds and two assists, Lee had several strong moments on Tuesday, however, he will need to become a little more selfish for Jerome to reach its potential.
Philip Alston (6'5 PF / Westerville North / 2019): While Tuesday's game did not start off blazing hot for Alston, he finished the job in a big way in the fourth quarter. Scoring six of his 10 points in the final seven minutes, Alston stepped up at the right time in the win.
While Keene, Lawrence and Perkins took care of most of the scoring load, Alston made his mark on the defensive end, blocking four shots and altering anything at the rim in his area. An athletic forward with plenty of explosiveness, Alston is really effective when his motor is running on both ends, which was the case on Tuesday.
Another kid with an elite academic profile, Alston has plenty of Division II opportunities, as he has what it takes to be a productive player at the next level. Alston has special athletic ability that can affect a game on both ends, as he had three strong finishes around the rim in the fourth quarter and a massive block above the rim that seemed to light a fire in the Warriors.
When North is getting big motor performances from both Keene and Alston, the Warriors can play with anyone, as we hope they can continue to play the way they did in the fourth quarter from here on out.