Northern coach looks for improvement even after big win

Jan. 21, 2014 @ 09:05 PM

Northern coach Ronnie Russell had his team lined up on the locker room bench in front of him for a postgame exhortation to pick up their play.

If you hadn’t seen the scoreboard, you might not have guessed that the Knights had just crushed a Panther Creek team that came into the MLK Black Wall Street High School Basketball Classic with a 14-2 record.

“We made some mistakes out there. We can get better. We’ve got to get better. Let’s get better,” Russell said after the 75-55 blowout at Riverside High School.

And to a man, the highly talented Knights, now 16-1 and ranked 8th in the state by MaxPreps, applauded with enthusiastic support in acceptance of that mission.

While Russell was not satisfied with what he called a rough first half, he congratulated his team for their best close of the season.

“That’s a sign of a good team,” Russell told his charges, who smiled and nodded at one another over the ego stroke.

Kentrell Barkley, the Knights’ standout, 6-foot-5 junior forward, was named the most valuable player of the game on the strength of a huge double-double. He banged in 25 points — including a 3-pointer and two resounding slam-dunks — to lead all scorers and was monstrous, almost magnetized, on the boards, coming down with 16 of Northern’s 36 rebounds.

“He’s always been a strong rebounder. He had 12 double-doubles for us last year,” Russell said. “He’s improving on his scoring output now.”

Northern’s other tower of power, 6-foot-5 senior shooting guard Ricky Council II, poured in 24 points. He was 13-14 from the free-throw line, dropped in a 3-point bucket, had five assists and five rebounds to boot.

Six-foot senior guard Jaquan Harris also scored in double digits with 10.

While Barkley was enjoying a big night, Panther Creek never double-teamed him.

“I was surprised, too,” Barkley said. “I saw I could get past the man, so I just took off.”

Barkley credited his scoring barrage and rebounding dominance to “quickness; and getting in position.”

When Northern throws Barkley and Council at you, it’s as lethal as a one-two punch from heavyweight boxer Vitali Klitschko, and Barkley said there’s a reason for their knockout scoring power.

“We’re taking good shots. We’re making sure the shots we shoot are good, and we don’t try to force anything,” Barkley said, also crediting team play. “We’re playing good defense, and we’re good at moving the ball.”

The goal is a state title.

“If we’re the best defensive team, we can be state champions,” Barkley said. “We have to push ourselves because everybody is coming for us.”

Panther Creek took the lead twice early in the first period, but Northern jumped out to a 21-14 lead by the end of the period and never looked back.

Barkley had 13 points in that period alone, twice converting 3-point plays. With 2:49 on the clock he hit a short shot and picked up a foul. At 2:01 he stole the ball and tipped it over to Council, who fired it back to Barkley on a full-speed run downcourt. Barkley immediately slam-dunked it and drew a foul.

Northern had an early eight-point, second-period run and crisp execution on a number of plays in widening the margin to 40-23 at the half. At 6:48 Council got the ball in transition, launched it to 6-foot junior guard Timothy Crutchfield, who passed it to Barkley down low on the post for a layup.

The Knights built the lead to 17 when Barkley got his second dunk at 4:14 of the third period and grew it to 18 points at 2:09 when he hit a layup off a steal.

Council scored 14 points in the final period, converting 10 of 10 from the foul line and bracketing the period with the first and last baskets, both layups.

Panther Creek had three players in double digits, including 12 by senior Nubian Spann, whom Russell characterized as “a beast inside.”

Spann hit a nifty turnaround jumper in heavy traffic at 3:21 of the third period and got a roar of approval from the crowd when he ripped the ball out of Council’s hands as the Northern player was going up for a shot with under four minutes left in the game. A minute later, Spann blocked a shot by Harris.

Northern 75, Panther Creek 55

Panther Creek |14 |9 |16 |16 — 55

Northern |21 |19 | 13 | 22 — 75

Panther Creek — Gaqwez Hudson 17, Nubian Spann 12, Malachi Paige 10, Juan Munoz 8, Josh Maciejewski 6, Darrian Saddler 2.

Northern — Kentrell Barkley 25, Ricky Council 24, Jaquan Harris 10, T.J. Bell 6, T.J. Crutchfield 6, Dillon Leovic 2, Isaiah Townsend 2.

Records — Panther Creek 14-3; Northern 16-1.