With the Ohio Division I title game knotted at 58 with 7.5 seconds remaining, the head coach for Columbus Northland had only one thought in his mind: get the ball to his best player.
Never mind the fact that said player is the coach's son, Jared Sullinger. After catching the ball near midcourt and driving to the basket, the junior center was fouled attempting a three-pointer with 2.7 ticks left on the clock.
The nation's No. 1 center prospect for the class of 2010 stepped to the line and hit his first two free throws, sealing a 60-58 Northland victory against Cincinnati Princeton and a state championship for the Vikings.
It was a case of redemption for Sullinger, whose academic suspension in the state playoffs last season imposed by his father cost his team a shot at a title as a sophomore.
"I've been saying from day one that we're going to win the state championship, I don't care how ugly or how pretty it is. We're going to win a state championship," Sullinger said. "With 7.5 seconds to go, I said, ‘Give me the ball. We're going to come out of here with a ‘W.' "
Sullinger dedicated the two free throws to his two brothers, J.J. and Julian.
"All I know was I've been through that much pressure before playing my brothers one on one," he said. "I couldn't do it without them."
In a game that pitted him against a close friend and AAU teammate in Jordan Sibert – two verbal members of Ohio State's 2010 recruiting class – each player played key parts in his team's success. Sullinger got started early and scored his team's first six points en route to a double-double at 15 points and 12 rebounds, while Sibert had 11 of his game-high 21 points in the fourth quarter as Princeton's furious comeback attempt fell short.
Trailing 40-30 entering the final quarter, Princeton (25-2) harassed Northland's guards and outscored Sullinger's squad (27-1) by a 28-20 margin.
"We're a great team," Sibert said. "We handled ourselves well under difficult circumstances and we were able to keep our composure and brought ourselves back but in the end it didn't work for us. We gave it everything we had."
Before the fourth quarter began, both players were yelling and clapping at each other near midcourt.
"I said, ‘One stop,' " Sullinger said. "He said, ‘No stops over here, big bro, no stops over here.' They just kept fighting."
Ohio's Mr. Basketball, Sullinger finished 4 of 13 from the floor but connected on 7 of 12 free throws. In addition to his 21 points, Sibert added three rebounds, two steals and one assist while helping key Princeton's full-court pressure.
The two are AAU teammates, but for one night they were enemies.
"We have practice (Sunday)," Sibert said. "I will be with him (then) laughing. Today was kind of tough. Today he wasn't my friend on the court.
"(Playing against him) was fun. We both have a will to win. Both are fiery guys playing with everything we have. I think we gave the people what they came to see."
The two embraced as both teams shook hands after the final buzzer, Sullinger's 6-8 figure enveloping Sibert as he covered his face with a white towel to hide his tears.
Sullinger offered a few words of comfort to his future teammate.
"I said, ‘Keep your head up because next week we're on the same team,' " he said.