NEWARK ― In a carbon copy of the last two meetings between Pickerington North and Newark, nothing came easy in a bruising, low-possession game.
The Panthers, however, used their physicality around the basket, size on the perimeter and just enough offense to finally subdue the Wildcats 36-32 Tuesday night before an energized crowd in Jimmy Allen Gymnasium.
North (12-1), which won 42-35 on its home floor last year and fell 42-41 at Newark in 2021, held the Wildcats (9-4) to just 33 percent shooting (10-of-30), including 2-of-10 on 3s. But Newark staged its own ferocious defensive effort and still had a chance.
The Wildcats trailed 29-19 when coach Jeff Quackenbush took a timeout with 2:44 left in the third quarter. Grant Burkholder’s tough 3-pointer from the left corner then triggered a 10-2 run. Ethan Stare’s fadeaway jumper pulled Newark within 29-24 going to the fourth, and his driving layup with 5:52 left suddenly sliced North’s lead to 31-29. But the Wildcats could never get over the hump, as neither team would score over the next four-plus minutes in the half-court chess match.
Newark cut it to 31-30 at 1:15 when Steele Meister split a pair of foul shots, before sophomore Arness Lawson dropped in both ends of a one-and-one for a 33-30 Panther edge at the 1:00 mark. In perhaps the biggest play of the game, Stare took it to the rim again and scored, but was called for a charge, wiping out the basket and possible tying 3-point play. After a North turnover, the Wildcats had another chance to tie, but missed a 3-pointer with 14.7 seconds. The Panthers then made 3-of-4 foul shots to cement the win, including two with 11.6 seconds by Lawson, who led the winners with 11 points.
“I thought our kids played really hard. We were down 10 there late in the third. I called timeout and told them, they have 10 minutes to come back. And they did,” Quackenbush said. “We just struggled to score, which a lot of teams do against them. Their guards are big, physical, athletic and well-coached. But they struggled too. We pressured them and it bothered them a little bit. It became a possession basketball game and became really physical. Our defense was good enough to win.”
J.R. Bates, a 5-5 freshman and son of North coach Jason Bates, came off the bench and helped the Panthers create a little space in the second quarter. He penetrated and had three assists, all on layups by 6-2 guard DaWaun Green, before Burkholder’s off-balance floater at the halftime buzzer narrowed the gap to 18-14. Patient North then added to its lead by missing only two third-quarter shots, and finished a solid 13-of-27 from the field for 48 percent. The Panthers were also an excellent 8-of-10 at the line and dominated the backboards 21-14.
Burkholder had eight of his 12 points in the third quarter and made the only two 3s by Newark. The ever-improving Stare added 10 points, but North contested everything inside and held Meister to just one field goal and six points. He did have nine rebounds, two assists and two steals. Braylon Morris also had two steals as the Wildcats committed just seven turnovers while forcing the Panthers into 12.
“We’re usually much better than 20 percent on 3s, but their pressure bothered us,” Quackenbush said. “That’s why you play these games, because this is January and February basketball, and what you’re going to see in the tournament. We have to find a way to win them. We’re right there with most of these teams. But we have to find more ways to score.”