The Northside High boys basketball team was playing catch-up from the start on Tuesday against McIntosh in the second round of the Class AAAAA state playoffs. It allowed the visiting Chiefs to score the game’s first nine points and trailed by as many as 17 in the first half.
It was a half Northside center Phillip Whittington described as “embarrassing.”
In the final two quarters, however, the Patriots turned up the intensity, cut down on turnovers, contested shots and rebounded the basketball en route to a 54-51 come-from-behind victory.
“I’m speechless,” said Whittington, who finished the game with 23 rebounds. “Coach just told us we had to stay strong and play with more intensity.”
The win sets up an interesting showdown in Thursday’s quarterfinal, which will be played at Northside. It will be a rematch of an epic contest in last season’s state quarterfinals, when the Patriots defeated Jenkins High 56-53 on a 3-point buzzer-beater by then senior Jeremy Floyd. (Video of game-winner over Jenkins at bottom of the page.)
Coincidentally, or perhaps not, that game was also played on Feb. 27. So, the rematch will come exactly a year later.
The players and coaches weren’t thinking about Thursday yet after the win over McIntosh. They were still hung up on the night’s events.
The Chiefs forced turnover after turnover in the opening minutes of the contest, erupting for a 9-0 lead in less than two minutes before Northside called a timeout to regroup. And while the Patriots gained some footing, they were unable to gain any ground, trailing by nine after one and 14 at the half.
All total, Northside turned the ball over 15 times in the first two quarters. Whittington was the only one to gain his footing offensively, scoring eight points before the break, but sophomore Davion Thomas was shut out.
“They came to play,” coach Kenny Lawrence said of McIntosh. “We didn’t. I thought we sleepwalked through the first half. We turned the ball over too much. (At halftime) I told them, ‘Y’all dug a hole. Now you’re in a dogfight.’”
After a three-pointer briefly made McIntosh’s lead 17 to open the third, Northside went to work. Thomas got the Patriots on the board with a dunk that elicited a loud cheer from the crowd. Thirty seconds later, he knocked down another jumper. Caleb Baker added a bucket and got fouled, completing the three-point play and cutting the Chiefs lead to 10. It was down to eight by the end of the third, and a 14-2 run to open the fourth gave Northside a 48-44 lead with just over three minutes to go.
The defense was better with blocks coming from both Whittington and Thomas. Thomas scored 14 points in the second half after a scoreless first, and the Patriots turned the ball over only six times after the break.
McIntosh got back within one point at 50-49, but Northside had enough to hang on for the three-point victory.
“We had to wake up,” Thomas said. “We knew if we lost, we were going home.”
Lawrence said he was proud of his team’s character, but that they need to avoid the sluggish start next time out.
“We know we can’t start like that again,” he said.
Tuesday at Northside
McIntosh 19 10 13 9—51
Northside 10 5 19 20—54
Jordan Lyons 18, Alex Cervantes 16, Will Washington 10, Lowery 5, Hall 2.
Phillip Whittington 16, Davion Thomas 14, Matthew Richardson 12, Caleb Baker 10, McGlan 2.
Records: McIntosh, 19-10; Northside, 18-10. Next: McIntosh, season over; Northside, Thurs. vs. Jenkins at home.
2013 Class AAAAA quarterfinals: Northside's Jeremy Floyd hits 3-pointer at the buzzer to win 56-53.