SHOOTER: North Side lives up to expectations, wins sectional title

North Side boys basketball coach Shabaz Khaliq cuts down a piece of net Saturday night after North Side beat Carroll to win a Sectional title. (Photo by Justin Kenny of news-sentinel.com)

There have been certain times during this season that North Side basketball has been a cautionary tale.

Stop right there, because Shooter doesn’t mean what you may think he may mean. Shooter means that there was a lot of unnecessary hype around the team when the season started and it happened state-wide. Media voted the Legends into the top 5 in Class 4A in the preseason. People outside of the program talked about a return to the state finals before they ever played a game this season.

That is a lot of pressure. A lot of pressure that didn’t make any sense, because this is a completely different team than last year’s state runner-up squad — in style, in speed, in roster and consistency. Some of that is bad, some of that is good. But never should THIS North Side have been made to live up to the expectations of THAT North Side.

But it was. And in those expectations, they’ve fallen short. They didn’t win the conference title, they didn’t dominate the city completely and they have faltered multiple times in key games.

Those expectations were false.

Saturday night’s expectations were true and more importantly, they were met.

North Side did not lead Carroll until there was 7:40 left in Saturday’s sectional title game at East Noble. Once it led, it didn’t trail again. That was the expectation and always should have been. It is the program’s 27th sectional title, earning this year’s team a picture on the wall of championship teams outside By Hey Arena.

Believe it or not, people and frogs alike sleep on North Side. When it didn’t win big games earlier this year against the likes of New Albany, Homestead and Carroll, we forgot that the Legends consistently win in championship moments. In the last five years, North Side has won 12 titles.

And throughout this year, those bumps they’ve hit made Saturday seem daunting to this amphibian before the game. But it didn’t take long to see that once the Legends could pry the early lead away from Carroll, they were going to be in fantastic shape. It took them 24 minutes and 20 seconds to do it when a Brandan Johnson jumper gave them the lead at 35-34.

Carroll came out swinging as it has all year. The Chargers (20-4) gave North Side all it could handle in the first half. Dan McKeeman went 3-of-3 from three-point range in the first half, had 14 points at the break and every time that North Side looked to make it a game, Carroll just pulled back away. There was seemingly no answer. But this frog believed that if North Side could pry the lead away, it would be sitting pretty. But they couldn’t for the longest time.

When North Side junior Keion Brooks Jr. took a hard fall on a foul late in the third quarter, Shooter is pretty sure it shook something loose for the Legends. Brooks proceeded to go on a run of his own offensively that looked as much like the game of a 5-star recruit as we’ve seen. Shooter once said last year that it was Keion’s world and we were all just living in it. He’s been good, even VERY good many times since then. Brooks found an elite zone in the second half and it reminded us that come championship time, North Side figures it out. Brooks ended with a game-high 28 points, including 21 in the second half and a streak of 10-straight second-half free throw makes.

That is why North would be ok if it could grab the lead. It is hard to do much when the other team doesn’t miss. For its part, Carroll was balanced, missing 11 first-half field goals and 12 in the second half. North Side missed 15 shots from the field in the first half. In the second half? Three.

That’s right, North Side missed more free throws in the second half than field goals. Brooks fought and battled and scored. Austin Boucher found his stroke from three-point range. The six guys on the court for North at various times Saturday night made their teammates play more relaxed. There was no panic, there was always just work to do. That is an expectation to rise to — championship expectations.

The Legends will now head to Logansport next Saturday for a 10 a.m. meeting with Zionsville. It’s early, the Eagles are good and nobody should expect North Side to roll through them. What we should expect is a program, players and a coach that know how to rise to the occasion and take big steps before they run and forge a path and expectations befitting of THIS North Side team.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Shooter at nssports@news-sentinel.com.

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