Northwood earns commanding win in East Chapel Hill revenge game; playoffs still up in air

BY VICTOR HENSLEY, News + Record Staff
Posted 2/18/21

PITTSBORO — When you’ve got revenge and a playoff spot on the line, it’s easy to feel motivated.

Northwood’s a prime example of that.

The Chargers completed their …

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Northwood earns commanding win in East Chapel Hill revenge game; playoffs still up in air

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Posted

PITTSBORO — When you’ve got revenge and a playoff spot on the line, it’s easy to feel motivated.

Northwood’s a prime example of that.

The Chargers completed their revenge tour by defeating the conference-winning East Chapel Hill Wildcats at home on Tuesday, 48-28, to extend their winning streak to six games as they fight for one of the four wild card playoff spots in the East region.

On Jan. 22, the Chargers lost a road game to conference foe East Chapel Hill on a buzzer-beater, which has since haunted Northwood as one of the sole reasons the team finished third in the Big Eight Conference this season, one spot away from an automatic playoff berth.

With that on their minds, the Chargers went into the rematch with the Wildcats on Tuesday galvanized — and it showed.

“We knew we had to blow them out because we didn’t want the same thing that happened last time,” said Northwood freshman forward Jarin Stevenson.

From the start, it was clear that Northwood was prepared to do just that.

Late in the first quarter, Northwood senior guard Troy Arnold scored on a fast break layup after a steal to put his team up 14-1. The Wildcats would end the quarter with just three points.

From there, East Chapel Hill put up a fight for most of the second quarter, cutting its deficit to eight points at halftime, 23-15, but the Chargers never truly felt like they were in trouble.

“That loss at (East) Chapel Hill really hurt us, but it was a good type of hurt because we learned a lot from it and you always want those losses that kind of sting a little bit more early on in the season,” said Matt Brown, Northwood’s head coach. “The guys were out here ready to go.”

If anybody was ready to go, it was Northwood freshman guard Drake Powell.

All night long, Powell acted as both a disruptor and an igniter, putting his full abilities on display.

If the Chargers needed a blocked shot, Powell was there (he had four of them).

If they needed an offensive boost, he was there (he led the team with 16 points and hit two threes).

If they needed someone to knock away passes during full-court presses, he was there.

“He’s so versatile,” said Brown. “That’s what he does best. He’s a lockdown defender, he can handle the ball, he can shoot the three, he can drive on you, he’s a great offensive rebounder and he blocks shots. He’s hard to guard, hard to defend. And it’s a matchup problem.”

In short, Powell seemingly did it all on Tuesday — but that’s not to say he didn’t have a ton of help.

Powell makes up one-third of the Chargers’ starting freshmen trio — along with Stevenson and guard Frederico Whitaker — that continues to shine night-in and night-out, often looking as if they’re actively trying to add to their highlight reels on a nightly basis.

One play in the first half, though it didn’t result in points, embodied the defensive mindset and the sheer talent of Northwood’s young nucleus.

During one of Northwood’s presses, the Wildcats attempted to get the ball across half court, but Powell knocked the ball away. Whitaker then scooped up the loose ball, made a spin move that split two defenders as he sped down the floor and kicked it to Arnold in the left corner for a three.

While Arnold narrowly missed the shot, the play itself oozed with swagger, athleticism and awareness. This is the future of Northwood basketball.

“They’re just good players, they make the coaches look good,” said Brown. “We’ve got a great coaching staff that works with them every single day and makes them better. Our coaching staff is probably one of the best in the state.”

One of the primary goals for Northwood coming into this rematch was to lock down Wildcats senior forward Will Tyndall, who had 16 points — including the game-winning baseline jumper — in East Chapel Hill’s first matchup with the Chargers.

The strategy? Have Powell stick to him like glue. Faceguard him. Don’t worry about defending the ball, just focus on making sure he doesn’t catch it.

Of course, with a talented player like Tyndall, it’s nearly impossible to deny him completely. He would finish the night with 19 points — all but nine of his team’s total points — but nine of them came off of free throws. Brown looks at it as a success.

“He’s such a good player and he found a way to score, and we knew he would,” said Brown, “but our thought was if we made it a little bit tougher on him, he would tire out. And I think he tired out.”

East Chapel Hill scored just 13 points in the second half, compared to 25 for the Chargers, as Northwood pulled away with little to no issue after the intermission.

While this win solidified Northwood as having avenged both of their last-second losses this season — they won their rematch with Southern Durham on Feb. 2 after losing in early January — it still doesn’t lock in a playoff spot.

Northwood has locked up the best record in the Big Eight, but due to the NCHSAA’s 2020-21 playoff bracketing format that was put into place because of the coronavirus pandemic, the conference title was given to the team with the best record after seven conference games: East Chapel Hill.

Northwood’s third-place conference finish has put them in the race for four wild card spots in the East region, which consists of 16 teams. The Chargers, sitting at 10-2, have one game remaining on Friday against Vance County.

Then, it’ll be time to find out whether or not they’ll keep playing next week.

Stevenson is confident.

“We’ve got to finish out the season. We have one more game, we’ve just got to make sure we win that, then go into the playoffs strong,” said Stevenson. “We’ve got to continue our streak.”

Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at vhensley@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.

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