UNIVERSITY CITY – With its sights set firmly on the district playoffs, which begin for all Large school teams in Missouri next week, the Parkway North boys basketball team came into its regular season finale Friday night at University City High, hoping to finally fix a few minor problems that had cost the Vikings several games recently.
And thanks to a magnificent effort by senior big man Darrell Johnson, Parkway North seemed to find the answers it was looking for, as it pulled out a thrilling 56-54 road win at U. City’s recently re-named Ed Crenshaw Gymnasium.
“We played a real good first, third, and fourth quarter,” North head coach Russell Vincent said. “But we were pretty bad in the second quarter, when we kind of went back into some of the bad things we were doing in a couple of the games we lost.
“The good thing about tonight though, was in those other games we couldn’t recover from the bad plays. But tonight, we really did and got ourselves a good win against a really good team in U. City.”
The key for North was the third quarter, when the Vikings used a late 11-2 run to turn a three-point halftime deficit into a 45-36 lead.
Johnson was a key figure during that spurt and throughout the game, as he collected a remarkable 16 offensive rebounds, and converted many of them into points to help the Vikes surge into the lead.
The 6-foot-8, 240-pounder finished with a game-high 24 points and 22 rebounds to lead North to a win over its Suburban South Conference rivals.
“Darrell was just fantastic tonight,” Vincent said. “It seemed like some of our best offense was to just throw up any kind of shot and just let Darrell go get it on the offensive glass.
“He’s always been a terrific offensive rebounder, but ever since Christmas, he’s just been another player. He’s great a going and getting the ball, but lately he’s even been going up with more power and even looking to dunk the ball on people. He’s terrific at that.”
On Friday, Johnson was pretty terrific at just about everything, as he even threw in two steals and four blocked shots to power the Parkway North attack.
And what’s really remarkable is Friday’s effort was Johnson’s second such game this week, as he poured in 31 points and 20 rebounds in the Vikes’ 73-41 win over Francis Howell Central last Tuesday.
“I guess the right way to say it is the interest from the colleges has really picked up lately for Darrell,” Vincent said. “We had Virginia Tech in the house for the (Howell Central) game, and we’ve been talking to a bunch of other schools too.”
Mid-major programs like Missouri State and Jacksonville (FL) have already made scholarship offers to Johnson, while programs like Temple, Colorado State, and St. Bonaventure have each contacted the Parkway North coach about his big man’s availability.
Led by Johnson, North extended its edge to as many as 10 points in the fourth quarter before a furious rally by the home team nearly brought U. City all the way back.
Lions star Travon Williams, another top local recruit, scored five straight points for U. City to make the score 49-44 with five minutes left in the game.
Then after North’s Willie Drake made a basket, Williams teamed with fellow senior Alex Henry for three straight baskets that pulled U. City to within two points with three minutes left in the game.
U. City had two chances to tie, when seniors Avion Ashford and Brannon Merritt both went to the free throw line following Parkway North fouls in the final minute of the game.
Fortunately for North, Ashford and Merritt both missed their freebees, which gave the Vikings possession of the ball with 31 seconds left on the clock.
And that’s when Johnson made the play of the game, a putback layup with 17 seconds left that gave the Vikes a 56-52 advantage.
U. City’s Henry hit a jumper to make a one-possession game with 1 second left, but North needed only to inbound the ball and run out the clock to win the game, earning the Vikings their 19th win of the season.
“Nineteen wins is pretty awesome,” Vincent said. “That’s the second-most wins for us in school history, and we feel pretty proud of that.”
Officially, Parkway North is 19-6 this season, and will go into next week’s playoffs as the No. 2 seed in the MSHSAA Class 5 District 4 tournament at Parkway Central High.
That No. 2 seeding means the Vikings have earned a first-round bye, and won’t begin play until Wednesday, February 22, when they’ll face either Parkway Central or Ritenour in the tournament semifinals.
Should the Vikes win that game, they will then advance to next Friday’s district championship game at Parkway Central, which could mean a matchup against top-seeded De Smet, an 18-7 club that finished second in the Metro Catholic Conference this year.
U. City, which is now 17-8 on the year, will compete in MSHSAA Class 4 District 6 at MICDS High, and will also begin tournament play on February 22, when the Lions will take on MICDS at 8:30 p.m.