Cavs seek revenge
It doesn’t take analyzing skills of a psychiatrist to know that there’s a palpable buzz heading into today’s 2A west sectional final between North Rowan and Shelby.
A lot is already on the line, it being a regional berth and the last chance for North Rowan seniors Michael Connor, Michael Bowman and Kenyon Tatum to win a state championship. Although one team’s season will end today, it could be the beginning of a rivalry that could be a trademark of the new 2A west region. North and Shelby could be seeing a lot of each other the next few years.
Now that North doesn’t have Winston-Salem Prep to worry with, the Golden Lions could become its most heated foe come playoff time.
The blossoming rivalry has already transcended basketball. Everyone remembers the Golden Lions ending North’s dream season at Eagle Stadium in November, also in the third round. The Cavaliers entered the game 13-0 before falling 45-21 to the eventual state champion.
“Alexis Archie, Kenyon Tatum and Shareef Walker were key members of the football team,” North coach Andrew Mitchell said. “So I’m sure they’re excited about playing Shelby again. But all our guys should be very excited. We beat the No. 5 team in the state Wednesday and now we’re going to play the No. 1 team in the state. That’s quite a week.”
Athletically, North going up to 2A was akin to Syracuse moving into the ACC, a welcome addition that made a loaded West basketball scene that much more interesting.
The last three years in 1A, North has run into Monroe into the postseason. The Redhawks leapt to 2A as well, but fell to Forest Hills Wednesday. The hero in last year’s Monroe game was Michael Connor, who hit a game-winning layup as time expired. Connor was also Wednesday’s story after scoring 13 straight points during a torrid fourth-quarter stretch in a 65-62 win against East Lincoln.
Archie was on the football field as the quarterback against Shelby, while Tatum was a defensive back and Walker a receiver. Jareke Chambers and Kasaun Coney also probably wish they could suit up tonight to get revenge. It’ll be up to the senior-laden Cavs, who could also use a good night from guys like young forward Josh Handy.
Guard Jalen Sanders is only a sophomore but not afraid of the big stage as he led North with 19 points in the regional last year against WSP in a double-overtime loss. Sanders has continued his ascent this season, garnering a scholarship offer from Georgia Southern.
Bowman enters the game with 943 career points and would probably have to play in two regional games to have a shot at 1,000. Connor surpassed 1,000 earlier this month.
Shelby boasts a similar pedigree to North, having been to the regional final the past two seasons. The Golden Lions are probably happy to see someone other than Cuthbertson, which ended its season two straight years in the regional final.
This team has a stellar senior in Gabe DeVoe, a Clemson commit who’s widely regarded as one of the best guards in the state. According to Maxpreps.com, DeVoe is averaging 33.7 points a game for coach Aubrey Hollifield, who used to be an assistant at A.L. Brown.
DeVoe can shoot accurately from further out than anyone the Cavaliers have seen. North assistants said he’s so strong he can take — and make — shots from 30 feet.
Shelby (24-1) is ranked No. 1 in the final regular season NCpreps.com poll and is averaging 74 points a game. The Golden Lions netted 119 in a blowout first-round win against Draughn and handled Central Academy 93-72 Wednesday.
“DeVoe is as advertised,” Mitchell said. “He can jump, he can shoot, he can pass. He’s such a good passer that you can’t just focus everything on him. If you do, his (supporting) cast will score a lot.”
But this is why North moving to 2A was such a big deal. It meant no more time in nine-team Yadkin Valley Conference, which produced a schedule that ate up nearly all of the season, against opponents that did little for the Cavs from a competitive standpoint. This year there were games against Bull City Prep, Winston-Salem Prep and Concord. North went 1-3 in those matchups but gained valuable experience against some of the more skilled teams in the region.
“We’ve played a good schedule, we’ve worked hard and we’ve tried to prepare for games like this,” Mitchell said. “What concerns me is that usually when you talk to coaches about a team, they’ve got answers. No one’s got any answers for how to beat Shelby. So we’ll just go there and play. We’ll go with Plan A, and if that doesn’t work we’ll try Plan B — or Plan C.”
The key for North probably is beating Shelby’s press. Other than DeVoe, the Lions are guys who score primarily off their defense.
The winner tonight plays the winner between Forest Hills and East Rutherford next Thursday at UNC-Greensboro.