PITTSBORO — In one fell swoop last Friday, the Northwood Chargers completed a 3-0 season sweep of the Person Rockets and won the Central 3A conference title in what was a very physical battle on both sides.
There was no better way to top off the Central 3A Conference Tournament than Friday’s contest, which was an all-around tough and bruising game that didn’t disappoint from beginning to end.
Once it was all said and done, Northwood eked out the win on their home court, 56-50, finishing with an impressive 12-0 conference record, excluding their 2-0 run in the conference tournament with wins over Orange and Person.
The Rockets refused to simply hand the Chargers the trophy, however.
Person’s talented, athletic roster made this an exciting game that kept fans wondering who would pull out the victory until the last minute.
“It was a tough game and they deserve a lot of that credit,” said Chargers Head Coach Matt Brown after the win.
The game started with the Rockets snagging the opening tip and sophomore Ty Outlaw scoring to make it 2-0. Then, Person turned on the defense, playing tight on the Chargers’ first possession, forcing a turnover that led to junior Ben Pettiford scoring quickly.
Northwood’s 6-foot-11 junior Kenan Parrish got the Chargers on the board with two buckets in the paint, scoring the first four points for his team.
Then, as would become commonplace throughout the game, Northwood sophomore Drake Powell dunked the ball to tie it on a putback attempt following a missed 3-pointer.
The Rockets were able to force a Chargers turnover and senior JaSiel Bumphus capitalized on the play, scoring on the other end to put his team ahead, 10-6, at the first timeout.
Out of the timeout, Outlaw made a big-time block in the paint, sending the ball out of bounds and into the lobby, causing the Person crowd to burst into an uproar of excitement.
But the Chargers immediately responded with a bucket from 6-foot-8 junior Max Frazier off of the inbound pass, then Northwood sophomore Fred Whitaker Jr. tied the game at 10 apiece with a mid-range jumper.
Outlaw then muscled in for a powerful dunk that gave the Person fans and bench much-needed exhilaration. However, that joy would quickly manifest into shouts of frustration due to the controversial foul call on Outlaw shortly after that play.
Concluding the first quarter, Frazier blocked a shot at the buzzer, keeping the game tied at 12 going into the second period.
Whitaker jumped out at the beginning of the second quarter, making three consecutive mid-range jumpers for six unanswered points. The Rockets further assisted the Chargers with their poor ball handling that led to several steals and out-of-bound turnovers.
Powell also capitalized on the Rockets’ miscues, draining two consecutive field goals and a free throw to extend the Chargers’ lead to seven points.
Person freshman DaeJon Hodge halted the Charger scoring spree with a field goal of his own in the paint, but Whitaker responded with a spin move to the basket, capping off his 8-point splurge.
“We dug some big deficits for ourselves in the first two games and could never respond and come back,” Rockets coach Charles Dacus said following the teams’ third matchup of the season.
It seemed like history was bound to repeat itself, with Chargers sophomore Griffin Hobbs draining his first 3-pointer of the night with just under a minute to go in the half.
But the Chargers weren’t done yet as Powell knocked down a 3-pointer at the buzzer, giving Northwood a 13-point lead going into the break.
The Rockets definitely needed a push to get them back into the game, and Outlaw delivered. He made an and-one dunk to open the second half, but Parrish stifled the Rockets’ attack, answering back with a dunk of his own to get the Chargers’ crowd on its feet.
Following a couple of back-and-forth plays between the two teams, the Rockets had the whole gym blown away when junior Julian Crawley slammed home an alley-oop pass.
But the fun didn’t stop there.
Later, Bumphus took the ball down the court speedily, soaring for a stunning fastbreak dunk. Shouts and chants erupted from the Person’s crowd and bench that would, once again, morph into angry cries once a technical foul was called on Bumphus.
With 3:16 left in the third, Hobbs made another 3-pointer to give the Chargers an 11-point lead, but just as Outlaw had started the quarter for the Rockets, he closed it out for them by hitting two free throws to shorten the deficit, 41-34, going into the game’s final period.
Outlaw once again refused to be denied in the paint by scoring an and-one in the low post, knocking down the free throw to start off the final eight minutes of game time.
Parrish gave the Chargers a little more breathing room by making two field goals, followed up with an exclamatory dunk from Powell with 6:06 to play.
Then, Person sophomore Isaiah Smith and Bumphus each made a field goal, cutting the Chargers lead to eight points, 49-41. Following a much-needed field goal for the Chargers by Parrish, Outlaw scored again under the basket. Pettiford then fouled Whitaker and sent him to line, with Whitaker knocking down both free throws to make it 53-43 Northwood.
After a missed free throw from the Chargers, a field goal from Crawley and a forced turnover on the Chargers, the Rockets quickly made their way back into the game, only trailing by four with under a minute to go.
But, in an effort to milk the clock, the Chargers passed the ball around in a game of keep-away. The Rockets then intentionally fouled with 30 seconds left and Whitaker missed his free throw, breathing life into the Rockets.
However, a missed 3-pointer from the Rockets and two free throws from Whitaker gave the Chargers a comfortable five-point lead and effectively sealed both the game and the conference championship.
After a hard-fought performance on both ends, the All-Tournament team was announced, consisting of three Chargers — Whitaker, Powell and Parrish — along with two Rockets in Outlaw and Crawley.
With an undefeated conference title-winning season in hand, the 6-seeded Chargers face off against the No. 27 Havelock Rams in the first round of the NCHSAA 3A state playoffs on Tuesday, a game that took place after the News + Record’s press deadline.
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