Northern advances in 4-A playoffs despite 3-point barrage
Northern was just warm enough in the fourth period to thaw those 3-pointers that Middle Creek had falling from the sky like hailstones Wednesday night.
“That’s the best 3-point-shooting team I’ve seen in high school,” Northern senior Ricky Council II said.
Middle Creek knocked down 10 3s, but Northern was able to get to the rim a shade more for a 72-62 win and advance to the third round of the 4-A playoffs.
Northern hosts Apex in a third-round game on Friday at 7 p.m.
The Knights’ defense needs to get better by then, Northern coach Ronnie Russell said.
Middle Creek’s John Perron exploited Northern for five 3s.
Council said Perron would trail the play and settle behind the arc for open looks. Even when the Knights closed in on Perron, the guy still sank shots, Council said.
It was a 30-30 game at halftime. Northern led 49-45 at the start of the fourth period and simply got a few more baskets to go in before the final buzzer blared.
“Thank God for that, because they were filling it up with 3s,” Russell said. “I think they scored about 30 points in 3s alone.”
Northern made eight 3s, including a big one by Council.
“When the Council kid hit the 3 in the corner and my best player fouled out, that was kind of the dagger,” Middle Creek coach David Kushner said.
Early in the final period, Council (23 points) pulled up for a baseline 3. Middle Creek’s Fred Iruafemi (12 points) made contact with Council, who nailed the shot while falling to the ground.
“That was a huge shot,” Kushner said. “We want them to shoot a jump shot at that point. They do, and they nail it and they get fouled. So that was kind of the game right there.
“Tonight, maybe the more talented team won.”
There certainly wasn’t any sizeable home-court advantage for a Northern squad that won both the regular-season and tournament championships in the PAC-6. And when Council isn’t on the floor adding to his senior highlight reel, Northern junior Kentrell Barkley (21 points) is likely making some noise, rattling the rim.
But Northern’s gym was half empty for the second round of the playoffs.
“I’m not sure exactly where they’re at,” Rick Council said of Northern’s fans.
Rick Council, Ricky Council II’s father, was at the Middle Creek-Northern game wearing a mask that had Russell’s face on it.
“Trying to motivate the team,” Rick Council said. “Hopefully, we’ll get a bigger crowd Friday.”
Russell said he wasn’t sure where the fans were Wednesday night.
“That’s a good question,” Russell said. “I don’t know. It’s Northern. It’s been a football school forever.”
Russell used to coach at Roxboro’s Person High School, and he said the gym there would be full when the Rockets were winning. But Roxboro doesn’t have a bunch of high schools for folks to root for like Durham, he said.
Ricky Council made it sound like he’s going to do his thing Friday night even if all that’s moving in the bleachers are gym mice.
If Northern loses, his high school career is over.
“You can’t rewind. You can’t turn back the clock. Put it on the court now,” Ricky Council said.
NORTHERN 72, MIDDLE CREEK 62
Middle Creek 12 18 15 17 — 62
Northern 17 13 19 23 — 72
MIDDLE CREEK — Justin Tankelwicz 6, John Perron 22, Daniel Jackson 6, Fred Iruafemi 12, Yoric Sands 2, Jarod Collins 6, Shammond Hicks 8.
NORTHERN — T.J. Crutchfield 8, Jaquan Harris 14, Isaiah Townsend 2, Kentrell Barkley 21, T.J. Bell 4, Ricky Council II 23, Jamal Goodlow 2.
Records — Middle Creek 16-10; Northern 26-1