PITTSBORO — Last Friday was an early-season test for the uber-young, uber-talented Northwood men’s basketball team. Thankfully for head coach Matt Brown, the Chargers passed with flying …
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PITTSBORO — Last Friday was an early-season test for the uber-young, uber-talented Northwood men’s basketball team. Thankfully for head coach Matt Brown, the Chargers passed with flying colors.
Northwood nearly saw its 20-point lead evaporate in a wild shootout of a fourth quarter — one in which the opposing Orange Panthers caught a collective Stephen Curry bug and rained down non-stop 3-pointers — but the Chargers held strong in crunch time for a 60-54 win at home.
That’s no small task for a team that starts three freshmen, plays four consistently and relies primarily on 14- and 15-year-olds to initiate offense in a deep NCHSAA 3A conference. Then again, during Northwood’s 3-1 start to the 2021 season, its young players have been playing like anything but.
“These guys, we’re asking a lot of them, and they’re stepping up big time playing against senior-heavy teams,” Brown said last Friday. “I’m really surprised they're holding their own.”
He paused, then corrected himself: “I’m not really surprised, to be honest.”
Through four games, 6-foot-8 forward Jarin Stevenson and 6-foot-5 guard Drake Powell lead Northwood in scoring at 15 and 11.3 points per game, respectively. Stevenson averages a team-high nine rebounds per game, too, while Powell leads Northwood in assists (4.5) and steals (2.3) per game.
Add in guard Frederico Whitaker Jr., another freshman starter who averages 9.3 points and 3.3 assists, and a slew of savvy veterans, and the Chargers have a team that’s equal parts dangerous and still figuring itself out. That’s why games like last Friday’s are helpful, senior forward Tucker Morgan said.
“The goal is to be playing your best at the end of the year,” Morgan said, “and you have to go through adversity to get to that point. So that was definitely a good experience for us.”
Just about everything was going right for Northwood through three quarters against Orange. With Powell and Whitaker zipping the ball around the perimeter, Stevenson crashing the offensive glass and secondary players such as Morgan, senior Colby Burleson and freshman Griffin Hobbs all contributing, the Chargers were cruising. They led 18-10 at halftime and 40-23 entering the fourth quarter.
Said Stevenson of the team’s mindset during that excellent stretch: “Once you get double-teamed, just kick it over. We’ve got some guys who can make shots.”
Interestingly enough, Brown didn’t fault Northwood’s defense for what happened over the next eight minutes. Rather, he said, it was turnovers and offensive rebounds that allowed Orange to steadily make its way back into the game — and cut Northwood’s lead all the way to just 46-44 with 3:39 to go.
The Chargers would play a solid possession of defense, only to allow an offensive board that sent the ball right back into the hands of a waiting shooter (the Panthers finished 10-35 from three). Then, on offense, they’d get sloppy (Northwood ended the game with 17 turnovers to Orange’s eight).
“We’ve just got to do better with the ball,” Brown said. “I think our guys got a little excited about having a big lead. They haven't had that, obviously — this was just our third game.”
After a gut-check timeout with 1:54 to go, though, Northwood got back to its roots. Whitaker found Stevenson and senior guard Troy Arnold for layups on consecutive possessions, and the Chargers starting pulling down the rebounds needed to prevent second-chance points.
They defended well, too, especially when Orange trailed 58-54 in the final 30 seconds and could have seriously threatened Northwood with a 3-pointer. Instead, the contested three fell short, and Stevenson grabbed the rebound and promptly went 2-2 from the free throw line, where he’s shot 79% this season.
60-54 Northwood. Ballgame.
“The team was counting on me, so I had to perform,” Stevenson said.
Film review will surely reveal some teaching moments from the fourth quarter, in which Northwood allowed 31 points (seven more than it had in the previous three quarters combined). But a win’s still a win for the Chargers, who also beat Chapel Hill, 57-43, at home a day later. Brown said as much.
“A young team like this just needs to learn how to expand that lead,” he said. “but I’m proud of the guys. When the pressure got onto them, they didn't fold.”
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