Coming into Thursday, the defending Columbus City-League South champion Africentric Nubians (0-4) were on an alarming three-game losing skid. After a shocking upset to Briggs (3-2), a team that hasn't won a division title since 1986-87, the panic meter for the Nubians has reached its brink.
Led by senior guard Dante Brown's 17 points, Briggs turned a six-point halftime deficit into the program's biggest win in school history on the Nubians' home floor, 59-58. Behind Brown's 10 second half points, combined with 12 from junior forward Malik Gore, the Bruins outscored Africentric 34-27 in the final 16 minutes to head back to the west side of Columbus with a major upset.
Basketball is a game of runs where momentum means everything. It was one major shot from Brown that changed the course of Thursday's game.
Late in the third quarter, a questionable loose ball foul call on Nubians junior forward Jaquan Harrison gave Briggs possession under their own basket, down 40-38 with just over a minute to go. As Harrison pleaded with the officials, the senior Brown spotted up in the right corner, knocking down a momentum-shifting three ball over the outstretched arms of Harrison, one that gave Briggs its first lead of the game. With newfound confidence, Briggs continued to press the boundaries for the last eight minutes of the game.
Heading into the fourth quarter trailing 43-41, the Bruins went on a 15-9 run lasting just over six minutes. Leading 58-51 with 1:37 remaining, Africentric struck back with a 7-0 run of their own, as a Houston Smith steal and athletic finish tied things at 58 with 12 seconds to go.
Without a timeout, Briggs went to Gore, who was fouled on the drive by Africentric junior center Ulmer Manzie with five seconds remaining. Going to the line for two of the biggest free-throws in Bruins history, Gore calmly knocked down the first to give the Bruins a 59-58 advantage.
With Gore's second free-throw missing to the left, Manzie corralled the rebound, and opted to bring the ball up the court. Being forced to the sideline by Briggs senior center Travon Hester, who battled injuries all second half, Manzie launched a prayer from half court that missed badly to the left, cementing Briggs' upset in Columbus City-League history books.
For Briggs, Brown and Gore's 32 combined points led the way for Bruins. Junior guard Rome Godsey added 11 points of his own, while freshman point guard DJ Corbett pitched in eight points, five rebounds and three assists.
Using its last timeout with just over four and a half minutes to go, Briggs trusted the freshman Corbett with the ball against Africentric's full-court trap, a move that showed the level of composure that the point guard plays with.
With Hester out with a nagging ankle injury for the majority of the second half, senior reserve forward Jon Mason put in valuable minutes that made a major difference. While only scoring two points, Mason's ten rebounds were a game-high, but no board was bigger than the one the senior grabbed over Harrison off a missed Briggs free-throw with just under a minute to go.
Enjoying an advantage on the boards, six Bruins corralled at least five rebounds, limiting second-chance opportunities for the Nubians, an area of the game where Africentric usually succeeds.
For the Nubians, the sophomore Smith led the way with 23 points, five rebounds and five assists. Hands down the most dominating player on the floor, Smith showed greater confidence on the perimeter, and wisely took what the defense gave him. With the Nubians down late in the fourth, Smith took it on himself to score, and that is exactly what he did. Arguably Columbus' most promising athlete, Smith has had a fantastic start to his sophomore season, and will be looked to for extended production down the stretch.
Outside of Smith, fellow sophomore Lorenze Gordon-Haynes was the lone Nubian to score in double-figures, going for 14 points and four assists. Gordon-Haynes, who has been thrust into a starting role early on, scored 11 points in the second half, including a huge three in the last minute that brought the Nubians within four.
The highly-touted junior forward Harrison had an underwhelming showing, totaling just seven points and four rebounds. Junior center Manzie struggled again on the offensive end, finishing with six points and eight rebounds.
Winning a state championship with All-Ohio Black this past summer, Africentric will need increased production from its duo of juniors as the Nubians travel to City-League South foe Independence (0-2) on Friday.
Briggs takes the momentum from Thursday's victory into a hostile environment at South (2-0), who is coming off consecutive league wins over Marion-Franklin (1-1) and West (2-1).
The first to rush the floor following the conclusion of Briggs' major upset was Bruins head coach Tony Rice. Starring as a Bruin in the early 1990's, Rice is arguably the greatest player in school history and has headed back to the Hilltop neighborhood to instill a winning mentality. Losing its last seven meetings to Africentric prior to Thursday, the Briggs team that came into the Nubian gym differed from Bruin teams in the past. Going up against the No. 2 team in Ohio's Division-IV, Briggs showed no intimidation and let it be known from the jump. Reinforcing hard work, toughness and skill development into the Briggs program, Rice now has the Bruins' biggest win in school history under his belt. Coaching a hardworking bunch that have bought into Rice's system, Briggs is no longer the City-League South's cellar dwelling team of the past.