The time to judge a basketball player is not on his best night.
With that in mind, local basketball fans should expect a lot from Columbus North center Tori Jackson.
Jackson made the difference in the Bull Dogs’ 69-59 victory over Columbus East at North’s Memorial Gym and, frankly, his play was a little inconsistent on a night when the student sections were dressed like they were celebrating either Halloween or New Year’s Eve.
Yes, it was Saturday Night Live crazy on Tuesday, and that made everything that much more interesting.
North’s big No. 41 made it more fun for the Bull Dogs’ student rooting section, which must have had a Slip ‘n Slide party in the Lowe’s paint department before topping it all off with stocking caps. East celebrated the rivalry encounter with safari hats. I can’t explain that one, or the big fish net. I guess they were trying to catch a River Monster.
In this case, either the 6-foot-8 Jackson or the No. 7-ranked (coaches’ poll) Bull Dogs could have been considered prize lunkers.
Nobody was going to get a net over Jackson. He left all the ho, ho, ho happiness to the non-basketball playing students as he accounted for 19 points and 13 rebounds to go with a few unforced errors under the basket.
Consider the impact he will make on a game when he puts it all together.
“I wasn’t paying attention to the ball,” the soft-spoken Jackson said of his turnovers.
No matter. One of Jackson’s best qualities, to go with his athleticism, is his mental toughness. Players often get down on themselves when things go awry. Not Jackson.
“I just keep going, keep hammering,” he said.
He kept hammering anything in his path, and the result was a hard-earned win over a very good Columbus East squad which held North’s other front-line starters, Clint Cunningham and Josh Speidel, to a combined four points.
If ever there was a night for North’s big man to hammer away, this was it.
He scored eight points in the first quarter when North established a 23-18 lead with two of the baskets coming off offensive rebounds and put-backs.
Then came a lull for Jackson in the second and third quarters as East made its run at an upset, even closing the gap to 36-34 in the third quarter.
But when push came to shove in the fourth quarter, Jackson was back at work, adding another nine points, all from his work in the paint, as North pulled away.
The North student section danced and cheered and finally spilled all over the court to celebrate with the players. “It was amazing,” Jackson said of the 5,000-plus fans who pushed into the gym. “They pump you up.”
It was a playoff-type atmosphere in a game that was played before the Olympians and Bull Dogs unload their Christmas stockings. There is a lot more basketball to be played.
But East coach Brent Chitty knows what he wants to find under East’s Christmas tree. “We have to block out better,” he said. “They exposed that.”
Jackson will hit the sack dreaming of something else. “I think we can go all the way,” he said.
That just might be the case. And maybe, just maybe, Jackson will have that perfect night.
“I know I can do more,” he said.
So do we.
Jay Heater is The Republic sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 379-5632.