Northern won its first PAC-6 Tournament title since 1991 and the Knights did it with a lot offense in a 99-80 victory over Hillside Friday night at Person High School.
It also was the first championship at Northern for fifth-year Knights’ coach Ronnie Russell, who coached 13 years at Person before coming to Northern. He also won titles at Person. The top-seeded Knights (24-2) also won the regular season after posting a 9-1 mark.
“These guys have worked hard and this was one of their goals,” Russell said. “But we’re going to close the book on the conference and open another book and go for something else. I am so proud of these guys.”
Hillside (16-11), which came in as the No. 3-seed, played in its third straight tournament championship game but the Hornets lost for the second straight time after winning in head coach Crasten Davis’ debut at the helm in 2012.
Davis said his team should be proud despite the loss.
“They have a great team,” Davis said of Northern. “Their role players played a heck of a game. They knocked down shots when they passed up one shot for an even better shot for a great shot.
Senior guard Ricky Council II led the Knights with 26 points, including three 3-pointers, while junior forward Kentrell Barkley added 21 points and a team-high nine rebounds. The Knights also got 11 points from T.J. Bell and 10 from Jaquan Harris.
When he was a freshman, Council said he told Russell that they’d win a conference championship. And now our years later, they’ve got one.
“It means a lot to me and to the team,” Council said. “It’s been four years, three on the varsity, and actually winning in my senior year is a dream come true,” Council said. “We know each other like the back of our hand and whoever is hot gets the ball. It’s all teamwork.”
Hillside got off to a good start against Northern, keeping up on the offensive end throughout the first quarter. It was 15-15 at the end of the first. But it wasn’t long before the Knights overwhelmed Hillside.
“We played with them for a while but when they took control, we never got it back,” Davis said.
Justice Kithcart scored a game-high 27 points and Robert Robinson Jr., added 19 but they were the only players in double figures for Hillside.
Northern built a 43-30 halftime lead thanks in part to controlling the backboards. The Knights outrebounded Hillside 26-13 in the first half. That dominance continued with Northern finishing with a 41-19 edge on the boards.
Northern continued to build on its lead in the third quarter before Russell started resting his starters early in the fourth quarter. The only question that remained was whether the Knights would reach the century mark on the scoreboard but they fell just short.
“We do a good job of distributing the basketball and playing to our strengths,” Russell said. “We’ve got to keep doing that.”
NOTES — Northern, Hillside and No. 2 seed Jordan will advance to the state playoffs when the brackets are announced today.
No. 1 NORTHERN 99, No. 3 HILLSIDE 80
PAC-6 4-A Championship
Hillside 15 15 20 30 — 80
Northern 15 28 29 27 — 99
HILLSIDE — LaShone McCrea 2, Robert Robinson Jr. 19, Malik Evans 6, Justice Kithcart 27, Jamari Warren 2, Trevion Thompson 9, Jalen McGee 3, Ryan McMillan 3, Jarrod France 7, Timothy Mangum 2.
NORTHERN — T.J. Crutchfield 5, Jaquan Harris 10, Isaiah Harris 5, Emmett Tilley 7, Tahj Small 3, Kentrell Barkley 21, T.J. Bell 11, Ricky Council 26, Avion Jordan 2, Jamaal Moore 2, Jamal Goodlow 4.
3-point goals—Hillside 5 (Robinson 3, Kithcart 2), Northern 8 (Crutchfield, Tilley, Small, Barkley, Council 4). Rebounds—Hillside 19 (Robinson 6), Northern 41 (Barkley 9).
Records—Hillside 16-11, Northern 24-2.