Boys basketball: North Rowan rallies at Forest Hills
MARSHVILLE — The third round is where boys become men if they want to advance to the regional, and North Rowan did some growing up at halftime on Tuesday at Forest Hills.
North Rowan won 59-50 in the 2A state playoff matchup and will take on 2A powerhouse East Lincoln (22-0) at 8:30 p.m. Friday in the Western Regional at the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds annex. It will be the Cavaliers’ fourth regional tournament trip in coach Andrew Mitchell’s five seasons.
“It feels pretty good,” Mitchell said. “We’ve got a very young team, and we’re playing without our No. 2 scorer (Josh Handy has a broken wrist), so that says a lot about what kind of guys we have.”
The Cavaliers trailed 26-20 at halftime after being discombobulated by Forest Hills’ triangle-and-two defense the first 16 minutes of the game. The plan devised by Forest Hills coach Matt Sides was a good one. He put a guy in the face of North Rowan’s leading scorer Jalen Sanders and another guy in the grill of Henderson Lentz, the Cavaliers’ best shooter.
He essentially asked North Rowan, ‘OK, now how are you guys going to score?” North Rowan didn’t have an answer for a while.
Lentz got off one shot in the first half — he swished a long 3 — while Sanders had two points at halftime on a breakaway layup.
“It was a defense like we hadn’t seen all year, and I’ve never had anyone defend me like that,” Sanders said. “Coach told me at halftime to stay patient and my teammates would get me the ball.”
North Rowan hadn’t seen a triangle-and-two because hat defense wasn’t going to work nearly as well if Handy was healthy. The other reason the Cavaliers hadn’t seen it was that Lentz, a sophomore, only recently emerged as a guy who’s automatic on open 3-pointers.
All the Cavaliers needed cheering up at halftime. Joseph Scott had gone 1-for-5 on free throws.
“Joseph is only a sophomore,” Mitchell said. “He was pouting a little bit until I told him guys who pouted were either scared or they were giving up. Then he perked up.”
The biggest thing that happened in the third quarter was that Sanders made a heavily defended jump shot.
“I knew if I could just get one to drop it was going to be a different game,” Sanders said. “And A.J. Shields made a big difference, We really needed him, and he stayed under control and played great.”
North Rowan (19-6) switched from a 2-3 zone to 1-3-1 in the third quarter, with Sanders at the top, Scott running the baseline, and Shields in the middle.
“They were hurting us in the first half by getting the ball to the high post,” Mitchell said. “In the 1-3-1, Shields was right there at the free-throw line, and he started getting his hands on a lot of passes.”
Shields produced a stunning flurry of rebounds, steals and layups, and with 1:30 left in the third quarter, he gave North Rowan a 32-31 lead.
“I got in and I got in my zone,” Shields said.
Then Lentz made a 3-pointer, and suddenly North Rowan was up by five heading to the fourth quarter.
Forest Hills got even at 42-all when 6-foot-3 Desmond Lindsey threw down a dunk on a lob with five minutes left, but then Scott and Sanders took over. Scott had nine of his 15 points in the fourth quarter, and Sanders had 10 of his 18 in the fourth.
Lentz didn’t get many shots but scored 10. Alexis Archie had six points and some big rebounds. Alonzo Sirleaf scored four, including two on a nice pass by Joe Harrison.
“When they played the triangle-and-two, they were telling some of our guys they couldn’t play at all,” Mitchell said. “But all our guys came through in the second half. We had the total team effort we needed, and now we get to keep playing.”
Guard Jordan Blakeney made four 3-pointers and scored 22 for the Yellow Jackets (20-7).
North Rowan (59): Sanders 18, Scott 15, Lentz 10, Archie 6, Shields 6, Sirleaf 4, Harrison, Hillie.
Forest Hills (50): Blakeney 22, Rorie 12, Lindsey 6, Huntley 5, Whitis 4, Barbour 1.
North Rowan 7 13 16 23 — 59
Forest Hills 9 17 5 19 — 50