GREENSBORO — It’s the game everyone expected to see. It’s just happening a day earlier than planned.
Third-ranked North Rowan (27-3) takes on No. 1-ranked Winston-Salem Prep tonight in a 1A Western Regional semifinal game.
Game-time is 8:30 p.m. in UNC Greensboro’s Fleming Gym.
As much praise as Andrew Mitchell’s North Rowan Cavaliers have received, coaches who have seen or played against Prep rave about the Phoenix’s overwhelming talent.
It is impressive.
Andy Muse of 4A Mount Tabor is the only coach to have beaten Andre Gould’s Phoenix this year and did it handily in the Frank Spencer tournament, 76-43. But he knows Prep has improved since then. Gould has an array of shooters who can light it up. Here is Muse’s advice for Mitchell.
“They’ve got to get back on defense and stop penetration,” Muse said. “They have to contain the shooters.”
It all starts with 6-foot-4 junior wing Mike Hughes. He has hit 27 of 51 3-pointers and averages 14.4 points per game.
“Hughes is one of the best players in the state, in my opinion,” Mitchell said.
Gould agrees, saying, “He’s one of the keys to how we play basketball.”
Hughes isn’t even the leading scorrer for the Phoenix. Aaron Lipscomb, a 6-0 guard, has hit 111 of 231 3-pointers and averages 15.0.
Muse is impressed with senior point guard Raekwon Harney. He has hit 23 threes and averages 10.4 but he is more of a distributor.
“They’ve got a true point guard who is a floor general out there,” Muse said.
Gould’s other top players are 6-7 Coye Simmons (9.3 ppg) and Omar Roseboro, a 6-3 junior forward. Jamal Deshields is averaging 8.2 points.
“They have a nice squad,” Mitchell said. “Lipscomb is one of the best 3-point shooters in the state.
“They have a nice solid squad. We’ve had a chance to see them on film. I have great respect for their coach and their system.”
But Muse also has some advice for Winston-Salem Prep. He watched North closely in the season-opening Charlotte Invitational and attended the Moir Christmas Classic at Catawba.
“Winston-Salem Prep has to keep them out of the paint and stop their penetration. They have to make them shoot jump shots.”
North counters with a pretty imposing lineup of its own.
Seniors Oshon West, a 6-2 slasher, and Malik Ford, a 6-7 senior, have been on varsity for four seasons.
Mitchell also relies on 6-1 senior T.J. Bates and juniors Michael Connor, a 6-2 guard, and 6-3 forward Michael Bowman. Jalen Sanders has been an impressive freshman guard, averaging 10.4 points.
West is Rowan County’s leading scorer at 15.9. Ford, Bowman and Connor are all averaging just under 10. None saw much playing time because the Cavaliers were usually never tested in the Yadkin Valley Conference.
They’ll be expected to play more minutes tonight. And Ford could be a key.
He has been battling a foot injury and didn’t have a good game in the 53-51 sectional final win over Monroe. He scored only two points.
But Mitchell thinks his big man will be mentally ready tonight.
“Against Monroe, he got a little frustrated,” Mitchell said. “Things weren’t going his way. But I really think he’s ready to bounce back. He didn’t drop his head. I read his comments in the paper and I was pleased with how he responded after not playing a lot. It shows he’s maturing. I’m looking for big things out of him.”
Bates is averaging 6.4 points but he hasn’t been shooting as much as the others. He did hit two big threes against Monroe but is usually Mitchell’s clamp-down defender. He could be used on Hughes or Lipscomb.
The coaches are taking nothing for granted. Both know the talent that will be on the floor tonight.
“North Rowan has similar players,” Gould said. “You ask me about Hughes, they have one. You ask me about Coye Simmons in the middle and they have one in Malik Ford. You ask me about my point guard, and they have Bates. You talk about my shooters. They have shooters. They have Oshon West. They’ve got a bench. We’ve got a bench.”
In other words, it’s time to sit back and enjoy two of the best teams in the state.
“I think it will be a heck of a game,” Muse said. “I think it will be an athletic game. Both teams will have a shot to advance.”
NOTES: Tickets are $9 for adults and kids under five will be admitted free. … Parking at UNC-G is $5 in the Walker Avenue parking deck across from Fleming Gym. … North beat Prep two years ago in the regional final 92-85 in double overtime. … Prep’s athletic director is a familiar face: Ricky Holt, a former Salisbury Hornet. … The victor will play at 1:30 p.m. Saturday against the Hendersonville-East Surry winner.