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Prep Basketball: North Rowan takes on East Lincoln

SPENCER — North Rowan head coach Andrew Mitchell and assistants Tim Bates and Bill Kesler have turned in fine coaching jobs in the past five seasons, but the past 10 days may have been their best work.

North Rowan is not only small, it has an unusually young team. It’s the opposite of last year’s squad led by seniors Michael Connor and Michael Bowman.

“I think we’ve gotten great leadership from (senior) Alexis Archie, from (junior) Jalen Sanders and from (senior) JaReke Chambers,” Mitchell said. “JaReke is a football superstar and he doesn’t play a lot of minutes, but he’s not pouting. He’s one of the biggest team guys and cheerleaders we’ve got.”

North Rowan (19-6) will play East Lincoln (22-0) on Friday at 8:30 p.m. at the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds Annex. That game will follow the 7 p.m. matchup between Lexington (23-4) and Smoky Mountain (26-1).

Does North Rowan have a chance to win the regional and play for the state title again?

Sure. All it has to do is figure out a way to be��the better team Friday — and then again on Saturday.

“We’ve got a shot, but this regional is a tough one,” Mitchell said. “I do think playing in a tough conference and playing tough non-conference (Ardrey Kell and Winston-Salem Prep) helps us.”

On Feb. 20, North Rowan took a mauling at Lexington in the Central Carolina Conference Tournament championship game. The final was 71-57. Lexington was the better team, and North Rowan looked discouraged and discombobulated even before Josh Handy (14.2 points per game) broke his wrist.

Lexington making it to the Western Regional is no surprise. But it is a surprise the Handy-less Cavaliers managed to join the Yellow Jackets in Winston-Salem.

Teams that reach the regional usually are riding a nice winning streak. Smoky Mountain has won 22 in a row. Lexington has won 14 straight since losing to North Rowan in the CCC regular season. East Lincoln has won 22 in a row since losing at North Rowan in the 2014 playoffs.

North Rowan’s winning streak is a modest three games, all in the state playoffs.

The Cavaliers do have strengths.

Sanders (17.7 points per game) is an exceptional player. He defends, he rebounds, he passes, he handles the ball, and he scores. He’s a streaky shooter, but he’s strong enough to power for points inside if his outside shot isn’t falling.

Sophomores Joseph Scott (12.7 ppg.) and Henderson Lentz (9.4 ppg.) have turned it on in the playoffs. Lentz’s overall game is sound, with the ability to knock down the outside shot. Scott is tenacious around the rim, smart with pump-fakes, and he wills the ball into the hole often after drawing contact.

With Handy sidelined, those three guys that have to produce points and stay out of foul trouble.

It’s hard to say which East Lincoln stat is the scariest — 84.7 points per game, 13 steals per game, 19 double-figure victories or 53-percent shooting for the season.

Chazz Surratt, a junior, averages 20.5 points, 8.6 assists and 6.5 rebounds. Sage Surratt, a sophomore, averages 24.9 points, 8.8 rebounds and 3.9 assists.

“They’re really good, really balanced, with four guys in double figures,” Mitchell said. “They’ll want to play it in the 80s. We can’t play it in the 80s. We need to play it in the 60s.”

Though undefeated, the Mustangs are not unbeatable. East Lincoln trailed in the second round of the playoffs, East Lincoln fell behind Newton-Conover by 13 points before turning it on.

If you’re good enough to get this far, you’ve got a chance, and Mitchell will remind his team of that.

“It’s not one of those games where I’m worried about us taking them lightly,” Mitchell said with a chuckle. “It’s not like I’m going to need my Knute Rockne speech. We’ve just got to stay close in the fourth quarter and see what happens. They haven’t been in a many close games.”

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