Northwood extends winning streak to 5 with playoffs in sight

BY BRENNAN DOHERTY, News + Record Correspondent
Posted 2/13/21

PITTSBORO — Last season was special for Northwood men’s basketball, there’s no doubt about it. 

The team’s 27 wins and a trip to the NCHSAA 3A semifinals is something …

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Northwood extends winning streak to 5 with playoffs in sight

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PITTSBORO — Last season was special for Northwood men’s basketball, there’s no doubt about it. 

The team’s 27 wins and a trip to the NCHSAA 3A semifinals is something nearly every team in the state would sign up for. But once the year ended, Northwood coach Matt Brown knew he had a big retooling project ahead of himself.

So far, it’s going well. 

Despite returning just 9.3% of their offensive production from a season ago, the Chargers find themselves in second place in the Big Eight Conference, most recently defeating Northern Durham, 51-43, Friday night to extend their winning streak to five games.

Senior shooting guard Troy Arnold came off of the bench to co-lead the Chargers with 15 points, the same amount star freshman power forward Jarin Stevenson contributed. Dominant throughout the first half and the early stages of the third quarter, Northwood led by as many as 25 in the second half before the visitors trimmed the lead down the stretch. 

“I thought we played pretty well on the defensive and offensive end for three quarters, and then the fourth quarter, we took a couple bad shots here and there, which led to easy transition points for Northern,” Northwood’s Brown said. 

The Northwood (9-2) win sets up a pivotal home rematch on Feb. 16 against conference leaders East Chapel Hill, which defeated Northwood 41-40 on a buzzer-beater on Jan. 22 and is ahead of the Chargers in the standings only by virtue of the head-to-head tiebreaker. 

However,  due to rules set in place by the NCHSAA to adapt to the evolving coronavirus pandemic, each team is only using only its first seven conference games as a measure for final conference standings. This means that Northwood (5-2 in its first seven conference games) has taken third place in the Big Eight, putting them just out of reach of an automatic conference playoff bid (top two spots). Now, the Chargers are fighting for an at-large playoff spot.

The idea that Northwood is potentially in a position to finish with the best overall conference record is a testament to the team’s ability to gel as a largely new group amidst the pandemic, which in some ways has made building team chemistry tougher.

Having three freshmen step into the starting lineup and average double-figures helps, too. 

Northwood’s youth movement — fueled by Stevenson, small forward Drake Powell and point guard Frederico Whitaker — was on full display in the Chargers’ win over Northern Durham. 

Stevenson and Drake’s athleticism and size — 6’8” and 6’5”, respectively — give Northwood dynamism schematically. The versatile duo is proof of the concept of positionless basketball and provides Northwood the ability to press and jump passing lanes on defense and score in transition or off dribble drives on offense. 

Whitaker, the Chargers’ floor general, runs the offense and is also capable of hitting shots himself. 

“Those three freshmen are pretty darn good,” Brown said. 

How good, exactly?

According to Brown, if they were eligible as 8th-graders, each would have been key contributors on last season’s 27-win team that featured eight seniors. It’s not hard to see why. 

Early in the first quarter, back-to-back Northwood possessions ended with the 6’8” Stevenson hitting a three-pointer from the wing and the 6’5” Drake slamming home a one-handed dunk in transition. If there was ever a sequence that tells the story of how Northwood has remained successful despite many new faces, that was it. 

“We had to get our chemistry together,” Stevenson said of himself and his fellow freshmen. “We play in the park sometimes, so that helps with our chemistry. I think the season’s gone well so far, even with COVID.” 

Collectively, the three entered Friday’s game averaging 35 points per game, about 60% of the team’s production. 

The Chargers do have some experience, though. Four seniors saw the floor on Friday, including Arnold, whose 15-point showing against Northern Durham marked the fourth time he’s reached double-figures this season. A sharpshooter, 12 of his points came from three-point range. 

Arnold’s ability to help his younger teammates out might be just as big of a contribution. 

“Honestly, it’s kind of fun,” Arnold said. “Teaching them the way and the culture of the team and stuff like that. My role has basically been (to) make them feel comfortable in the game and take the reins whenever it’s needed and just allow them to play basketball.”

Still, Friday’s showing against Northern revealed there’s room for improvement.

Early in the third quarter, the Chargers led 39-14 and looked like they could name the final score. But the visitors toughened up defensively, got easy looks in transition and closed the game on a 29-12 run. 

Before the season, Brown warned that his inexperienced group would “take some lumps here and there,” and the inability to completely put a game out of reach like the one Friday is an example of that. 

But when you’re 9-2, that’s something you’ll live with. 

“We’re still learning how to put away a team,” Brown said. “We’re learning how to pull away from them. But those are the types of lumps we were expecting. But (the players) are starting to get it.”


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