In a game where Dublin Coffman never held a lead, Northland was in complete control as Derek McKeithen's 16 points paced the Vikings to a 57-47 victory.
1. Derek McKeithen is locked in
Realizing that there is no next year, Northland senior Derek McKeithen has played his best basketball of his career in the last two games for the Vikings. Scoring a game-high 16 points, McKeithen was a terror in transition, as the senior led the Vikings with two steals, one leading to a powerful two-handed jam in the third quarter. As fellow senior and good friend Ty Hairston hasn't been with the Vikings for the postseason, McKeithen has looked to be more focused than ever, playing without Hairston for the first time in his high school career. Knocking down a game-high three bombs from the perimeter, McKeithen has put his athletic 6'4 frame to use, scoring in a variety of ways to lead the Vikings in the postseason.
2. Defense wins championships and pressure busts pipes
Heading into halftime with a 27-23 lead, Northland had completed a sloppy first half filled with a number of blunders. Turning up the defensive pressure in the second half, Northland's halfcourt trap caused an array of problems for Dublin Coffman, as the Vikings executed in transition following several costly turnovers. Arguably the area's most talented team, Northland hasn't always played to its potential this season, but a dominant third quarter from the Vikings proved to be the difference on Wednesday. Arguably the area's toughest on-ball defender, senior point guard Shemar Waugh impacted Wednesday's game in a variety of ways, despite attempting just one shot from the field. Finishing with a game-high seven assists, the Ohio Dominican commit played his best game of the postseason in leading the Vikings.
3. Too little, too late
Getting as close as two points in the third quarter, Coffman was never able to get over the hump on Wednesday. Albeit outscoring the Vikings 14-10 in the fourth quarter, Coffman could not get consistent offensive production from players not named CJ Saunders or Sam Payne, proving to be costly late. Going into halftime with 10 points, senior guard Nate Axelrod was limited in the second half, as Waugh's defensive pressure held the 5'6 floor general scoreless in the final two quarters of play.
4. Jhust Doing It: Sloan, Cornley effective off the bench
Going for a tournament-high six points, senior guard Kenny Sloan put in valuable use of his minutes off the bench. Knocking down three field goals from around the rim, Sloan played with the most confidence that I've seen out of him in the last two years, as the Mifflin transfer handled Coffman's pressure with ease. Fellow senior guard Jhustus Cornley played a solid game, finishing with three points. If you would have asked any Columbus basketball fan before Wednesday's game to rate Northland's chances in a contest where Seth Towns and Waugh scored as many points as Sloan and Cornley, the results would be grim. On Wednesday, Northland's balanced scoring, length, and athleticism proved to be the difference in the win over Coffman.
5. Toughness over finesse
Behind the dominant post play of Northland's duo of big men Doug Taylor and Jaylen Tucker, the tandem outrebounded Coffman by themselves on Wednesday, combining to pull down 15 rebounds compared to the Rocks' 14. As Northland jumped out to a 10-0 start in the first five minutes of Wednesday's game, it was clear from the jump that Coffman would be bothered by the physicality and length of Northland's bigs. Killing the Coffman 1-3-1 zone with constant lobs from Waugh, Tucker and Taylor were key pieces as the Vikings found a way to break the Rocks' defensive scheme in the second half. As Coffman features a group of post players that prefer to play out on the perimeter, Northland's combo of Tucker and Taylor gave the Rocks all they could handle underneath. Tucker finished with 15 points and seven rebounds, while Taylor added eight points and eight rebounds.
6. Vargo severely missed
Exiting Wednesday's game toward the end of the second quarter with a lower leg injury, Coffman would suffer from the absence of talented sophomore forward Luke Vargo . Although Vargo only tallied two points in limited minutes on Wednesday, the sophomore has been effective at stretching the floor with perimeter shooting in the Rocks' postseason run this season. Without Vargo in the lineup, Coffman suffered greatly from the size mismatch with the Vikings, in addition to losing more offensive firepower in the second half.
7. Saunders continues to elevate
After a career-high 22 points in Coffman's district final win over Newark, junior CJ Saunders continued to elevate his stock among Central Ohio guards with a team-high 13 points on Wednesday. Scoring 10 of his 13 points in the second half, Saunders showed great toughness and finishing ability, often times going up and around Northland defenders for points. As the rest of the Rocks have struggled to consistently score, Saunders has been a major bright spot for a young team that graduates just one senior.
8. No "I" in Northland: Vikings turning the corner
Following a shocking loss at Brookhaven in February, one that ended a historic 118-game City League winning streak, many around Central Ohio wondered if Northland was the same dominant force that the Vikings have been in the past. In the loss at Brookhaven, Northland looked to be a team full of alpha dogs who refused to accept their roles. As the Vikings have ripped off five wins in postseason play, Northland is playing with a completely new identity, as players have accepted roles and are playing with great intensity. Playing great team basketball on Wednesday, the Vikings will have to continue to play with the same selflessness for the remainder of the postseason.
9. Vikings look for fourth trip to state final four in six years
With the win over Coffman on Wednesday, Northland is just one game away from a fourth trip to the state final four in the last six years. Taking down Gahanna in a third quarter charge last season, the Vikings will have another tough test ahead of them in Saturday's regional final. Heading into a matchup with the winner of Upper Arlington and Pickerington Central, Northland's next round gameplay with vary dramatically based on the opponent. Losing to a Pickerington Central team with Jae'Sean Tate earlier in the season, the Vikings had several costly mental errors down the stretch that eventually cost them a momentum-building win. However, without Tate in the lineup, Pickerington Central is not as stout on the interior as they once were. A regional final matchup with the Tigers would spell for a track meet between the two athletic units, one that likely favors the Vikings. However, a matchup vs. Upper Arlington would make for a different regional final matchup, one that might cause some potential problems for the Vikings. As Upper Arlington plays arguably the best halfcourt defense out of any team in Ohio, Northland would have to execute at an extremely high level in order to pull away from an experience Golden Bears unit, something the Vikings haven't always been the best at. Regardless of Thursday's outcome between Pickerington Central and Upper Arlington, Saturday's regional final will be one for the ages.