Northwood wins 'ugly' game over E.E. Smith, advances to 3A finals


SANFORD — As he walked off the court Saturday afternoon, Northwood junior Drake Powell embraced his dad, Dedric, who didn't mince words about what he just watched.

"It was an ugly win," he said, "but a win nonetheless."

That pretty much summed it up. Playing against E.E. Smith in the 3A boys east regional championship at Southern Lee High School, a Powell-led Northwood sputtered out of the gate, managing just 11 points — the team's season-low for a first half this year — in the game's first 16 minutes.

But faced with a trip back home to Pittsboro rather than next weekend's state championship game in Raleigh, the top-seeded Chargers made the plays when it mattered most in the second half to secure a spot in the 3A final, eventually taking down the Golden Bulls, 37-31.

"I thought they defended us well, and I thought we took a couple quick shots ..." Northwood head coach Matt Brown said. "We were amped up. We didn't work the ball, but toward the second half, we made the adjustments and got some easier baskets."

Entering Saturday's game, Northwood (28-2) averaged 68.4 points per game for the season, including 63.0 points in their first four playoff games. But playing at a new venue for the first time in nearly a month, the Chargers couldn't find any sort of rhythm offensively against E.E. Smith in the game's opening minutes.

Northwood struggled to deal with the Golden Bulls' on-ball pressure. The Chargers uncharacteristically committed several turnovers in the first quarter, though the end result was similar when they held on long enough to shoot.

Despite several open looks, Northwood's shooters couldn't knock down their corner threes or mid-range attempts. After managing five points over the first eight minutes, the Chargers followed it up with just six more in the second quarter. At halftime, Brown's team trailed by one point, 12-11.

"Our defense is very important. It's how we win championships, or games like that," Powell said. "We're going to keep taking those shots that we miss, because they eventually will fall. I think this group works very hard. We're too talented for them not to fall." 

Rather than letting their struggles carry over to the second half, however, the Chargers opened the third quarter on fire. After taking the lead for the first time early in the period, Northwood firmly captured momentum after senior Kenan Parrish blocked an E.E. Smith shot on the defensive end. 

Junior Jake Leighton grabbed the rebound and threw the ball downcourt to fellow junior Ashton Elliott. The guard then attempted an alley-oop pass to senior Max Frazier, which unintentionally bounced off the backboard before finding its way into the power forward's hands for the finish.

"I don't think that was planned," Frazier joked after the win.

Frazier's throw-down put Northwood up 21-17 and re-energized the Chargers' faithful, who showed up in droves Saturday to support their team. From there, the Northwood ballooned its lead to 26-19 before E.E. Smith was forced to take a timeout. 

The Chargers entered the fourth quarter up five points, 26-21, and the lead stayed between five and seven points for the makority of the final period. Things did get interesting, though, in the waning moments.

After holding strong on the defensive end, the Golden Bulls buried their first three of the second half to pull within two points, 33-31, with less than 30 seconds remaining. On the inbound play, the 7-footer Parrish was fouled and went to the line for the one-and-one.

Despite the best efforts of E.E. Smith, whose cheers became near-deafening, Parrish stepped up to the line and knocked down the first free throw to put the Chargers up three. Then he buried the second to ice it.

Easy money.

"I knew he was going to knock them down," Brown said. "He missed a couple of layups earlier and was pretty down on himself during that timeout, but I told him he was going to come up huge later on, which he did. He's a good shooter. And he's a confident shooter. I was happy for him with how he redeemed himself"

On top of his clutch free throws, Parrish was also crucial, along with Frazier, in defending E.E. Smith senior James Scott, a 6-10 center who is committed to play at Division-I College of Charleston. 

Scott averaged 22.8 points per game entering the 3A semifinal, but the duo of Frazier and Parrish held the big man to just 13 points Saturday. Offensively, Northwood was led by Powell, who also had 13. 

"That was our big concentration," Brown said of slowing down Scott. "He's a good player. He does such a good job of protecting the rim and staying in the paint, but I thought our two bigs really challenged him."

What's next?

In the aftermath of Saturday's game, Powell made it clear the Chargers had already put this win behind them.

"It feels great," he said. "But we're not done yet."

Heading back to the 3A state final for the second time in three seasons, Northwood will face the undefeated Central Cabarrus Vikings (31-0) at Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh on Saturday, March 11 at 7:30 p.m.

Central Cabarrus reached the 3A final by taking down West Charlotte, 78-51, in the west regional final Saturday.  The Vikings' best player is senior guard Jaiden Thompson,  who is averaging 19.9 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 4.3 steals per game this season.

northwood, boys basketball, e.e. smith, chargers, golden bulls, Drake Powell, James Scott, Max Frazier, Kenan Parrish, Ashton Elliott, nchsaa, state championship