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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, March 04, 2017 7:41 pm

North Side rejoices in sectional triumph

MARK SCHUTTE | For The Journal Gazette

North Side erased one of the few bad memories of this season Saturday night and added a sectional championship trophy, pieces of net and an endless stream of smartphone photos to a growing scrapbook.

The Legends defeated Snider 60-45 to win the Class 4A sectional at Carroll and avenge a regular-season overtime loss that cost them a chance to win the SAC title. The sectional championship was the 26th in school history, but its first since 2014, and improved the No. 4-ranked Legends record to 24-2.

North Side will face another SAC rival, Homestead, at 10 a.m. next Saturday in the first game of the Logansport Regional.

“It means a lot for our program and it means a lot for our kids,” North Side coach Shabaz Khaliq said. “Our kids hadn’t been here for years and haven’t had a chance to experience this.

“They had to deal with the Snider loss earlier in the season and have that hovering all over them the rest of the season. For them to get some redemption and win a sectional, it’s important. I’m glad because I get another week with them because they’re tremendous kids.”

And the Legends moved one step closer to their goal of a state championship.

“All year we’ve preached winning state and winning sectional is a big goal for us,” senior Jaylen Butz said. “We definitely would have felt empty if we’d have left here without it. It’s just a great feeling to know we came here and finally got it done.”

In the first meeting between the teams on Dec. 16, Snider hit 15 3-pointers, including a game-winner at the buzzer by senior Michael Barnfield to give the Panthers a 76-73 overtime victory. The Panthers went on to go 9-0 in SAC play and win the regular season title, a game ahead of the Legends.

In the rematch Saturday, Snider made just six 3-pointers (6 for 22) and hit only eight other field goals the entire night (14 for 47).

“They had championship level defense,” Snider coach Jeremy Rauch said. “And I thought we probably did too. We made them work and then they got a little more in transition and that probably proved to be the difference. Credit to them, they outplayed us, they’ve got a really nice team and they guarded about as well as we’ve probably seen them guard.’

No one guarded better than North Side junior Brandan Johnson, who drew the assignment of shadowing Snider’s Mr. Basketball candidate, Malik Williams. Johnson, at 6-feet-2 gave up about 9 inches in height to Williams, but gave him nothing else as the Louisville recruited made just 1 of 7 shots and finished with just six points and nine rebounds.

Once the Legends knew Friday night they would be facing Williams and the Panthers, Johnson got locked in on the role he’s taken on all season.

“I play defense, that’s what I do,” said Johnson, who added nine points. “I know what Malik can do. He’s a Louisville commit, it speaks for itself. I just wanted to go out there and stop him from doing whatever it was to help us win.”

On the occasions Williams or any other Panthers found an opening, Butz and sophomore Keion Brooks were waiting to clean up inside. The two combined for nine blocked shots, with Brooks posting a line of 17 points, 11 rebounds and seven blocks. Butz finished with 14 points and eight rebounds.

North Side never trailed in the game, taking its biggest lead at 38-23 with 2:07 remaining in the third quarter.

The Panthers rallied early in the fourth quarter when Jordan Gorman hit a three and Keondre Brown completed a three-point play to make it 44-36 with 5:55 to go.

But Brooks hit the two free throws and Butz followed with a layup, so instead of a 44-38 lead, the Legends were up 48-36 and on their way to the title.

In Rauch’s first season, the Panthers finished 17-7, notching the SAC title and earning their first tournament victory since 2009.

“We had five seniors that we were willing to play probably a little bit different game than they have played in previous years and get after it,” Rauch said. “I’ve only been here seven months, but to see the transition and progression and the maturity and togetherness, it’s really, really positive. I’m extremely proud of all of them.”