Ronald Collins III sure has been through a lot as an athlete at North Side.
He once was the quarterback for the football team, but gave way to Duce Taylor and moved positions.
On the basketball court, Collins has been one of Coach Gary Andrews’ loyal soldiers, sticking with the program despite just three wins over a two-year span.
So when asked about the clinching of a winning season with the Legends’ 76-73 victory over Churubusco at By Hey Arena on Tuesday night, it was impossible for the senior’s mask to hide his broad smile.
“I have been here and I have gone through so much,” Collins III said. “To actually reach points where I wanted the teams to be at – with the football team getting to the sectional championship game and us having a winning record in basketball – it feels great.”
The win was North Side’s eighth in nine games to close out the regular season and lifts its record to 12-9, quite the turnaround from Andrews’ last two seasons in which the Legends went a combined 3-41.
Collins was around for it all, from the end of the Shabaz Khaliq era to the quick precipitous drop immediately thereafter, followed by the slow climb back upward.
The next step on that ascending trek came against the Eagles (16-4) in what was a high-paced, back-and-forth game. Both teams battled foul trouble and emotions at critical times. Churubusco and North Side each had key personnel relegated to the bench for stretches as the officiating crew called the game close. Landen Jordan was a force but had to sit at times due to fouls, as did teammate Luke McClure and North Side’s Brashawn Bassett.
The game came down to the final few minutes. When Evan Love connected on a corner three-pointer with less than three minutes left, it gave Churubusco its biggest lead of the contest at six points. North Side would cut it to four and have the ball when a Tae Johnson drive led to free throws for the freshman. He would hit the first but miss the second, yet was able to commandeer the rebound, go right back up, score and draw the fifth foul on Jordan.
Johnson converted the free throw, tying the game at 67. The freshman would finish with 16 points.
But Churubusco was not done. Senior Jackson Paul was a menace all night and finished with a game-high 35 points, but it was his play after Jordan’s departure from the game that nearly won it for the Eagles.
Paul scored six straight points after Johnson tied the game for North. When the senior hit a pair of free throws with 68 seconds left, it put Churubusco up four. But on the ensuing possession, a Brashawn Bassett three brought the Legends back within one.
Bassett, who was visibly emotional after picking up his fourth foul a few minutes earlier, was being kept protected on the bench from playing defense whenever possible. Paul’s made free throws allowed Andrews to insert Bassett back into the game with an offensive possession coming, which proved to be key.
However, Churubusco was still ahead with possession. Paul handled the ball and attacked the bucket, drawing a foul and shooting two with 43 seconds left. But both free throws missed, giving North Side the ball down one.
Following a sloppy possession but retaining the ball out of bounds, Andrews called a timeout and dialed up a play from deep in the playbook.
“We hadn’t run stack all year, so we thought with them playing zone and Landen Jordan out of the game we had the opportunity to use it,” said Andrews about the play call. “We drew it up to where everyone would go to (junior Rodney Woods) out of the stack and Jordan Green would hesitate a split second and then go to the bucket. He was wide open.”
Johnson found Green for an easy lay-up, putting North Side ahead by one.
The drama was not yet over. Churubusco was able to get a few shots up inside the paint but could not knock a shot down. Bassett eventually corralled a rebound, was fouled and nailed a pair of free throws with 14 seconds left. The sophomore finished with 24 points.
The Eagles got a final chance with barely a second remaining, but Paul’s three-point attempt was swatted into the crowd by senior Isaiah Moore as time expired, a fitting conclusion with an upperclassmen making the play.
“We kept talking about how this was our seniors’ last home game they were ever going to play,” Andrews said. “So we wanted to send them out with a win over a great ‘Busco team. We just found a way. We didn’t shoot the ball very well to start the second half, but we kept battling and battling and found a way to win.”
For Collins III, the feeling of Tuesday’s victory, coupled with 11 others this season, has him feeling good about basketball again. After a few rough seasons, Collins III is now able to emerge from post-game locker rooms with a beaming face a lot instead of accepting the onslaught of losses.
It is a welcome change.
“This is way more fun, I’m not gonna lie,” said Collins III about this season. “When you’re losing it is never fun. When you’re winning, it’s a lot better.”
North Side is now idle until next Friday when it will play the winner of Carroll and Northrop at the East Noble Sectional.
Churubusco still has two regular-season games remaining – Thursday at Garrett and Friday at home against Eastside.
These opinions represent those of Bounce and Outside the Huddle. No opinions expressed on Outside the Huddle represent those of any of our advertisers. Follow Bounce on Twitter at Bounce_OTH