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Prep Basketball: North boys beat Lexington

By Mike London

mike.london@salisburypost.com

SPENCER — When it comes to ranking rivalries, North Rowan vs. Lexington is up there.
Going into Tuesday’s Central Carolina Conference opener, North star Jalen Sanders’ tally sheet against Lexington was 3 wins, 3 losses, with three of those six meetings decided by a single bucket.
“Lexington always brings great intensity,” Sanders said. “As far as rivals, Salisbury is still first for us, but Lexington is definitely second.”
Sanders answered the challenge in the latest battle. The senior was the dominant player on the floor, and he shot, rebounded, dribbled, passed and led the Cavaliers to a 57-44 victory that was tougher than the final score sounds.
Mostly this one was about defense. It took five minutes for the Cavaliers (11-2, 1-0) to get on the scoreboard.
“Two things were happening at the start of the game,” North coach Andrew Mitchell said. “First, our guys were all excited about winning the Christmas tournament and we came out a little bit too individual. The second thing was that Lexington had us well-scouted. They were calling out our plays before we ran them. They were pushing us out of the positions we wanted to be in.”
Sanders and Josh Handy (his junior season ended with a wrist injury against Lexington in the CCC tournament championship game) came out firing quickly from long range. They were clanging. Joseph Scott was taking it to the rim, but shots he’s finished all season were being rejected by long-armed Lexington leapers.
“I could tell after two possessions, we probably were going to struggle on offense,” Mitchell said. “But defense was going to be the key. Defense is always the key.”
After a quarter, Lexington (9-4) led, 9-5. But in the second quarter, North caught up with a series of points off turnovers. Sanders and Handy combined for 19 in the quarter. With the score 17-all, Sanders scored three straight buckets for the Cavaliers. North led, 28-21, at halftime, even though Scott, who averages 18 points, had been held to two.
Marquise Jordan, an impressive 6-foot-3 sophomore, had 12 points at the break for the Yellow Jackets.
“Handy asked to be switched to Jordan at halftime,” Mitchell said. “He slowed him down.”
Scott got going in the third quarter with a series of steals and finishes. Sanders, who scored 21 points despite being shut out the first 10 minutes, stayed on a roll. Sanders finished the night 0-for-5 on 3-pointers, but he was 10-for-12 on 2-point attempts.
“It was a tough game,” Sanders said. “No Lexington game isn’t a tough game. We hurt ourselves some by playing selfish at the start. But then we decided to play as a team, and we went from there.”
Down 44-34, entering the final quarter, Lexington didn’t have the outside firepower to make a comeback. The Jackets fought on the glass and in the paint, but they couldn’t overcome 0-for-11 3-point shooting. North wasn’t much better — 2-for-13, with long-distance makes from Handy and Henderson Lentz.
Lentz’s 3-pointer, early in the fourth quarter, gave North a 47-34 lead.
Lexington was within 52-44 after a Daniel Reid-Bennett three-point play with 1:14 remaining, but Handy, Scott and Sanders made free throws. Sanders got an uncontested, two-handed dunk at the horn to put an an exclamation point on the victory.
“Lexington came here to knock us off and they played very hard,” Scott said. “We didn’t play great, but we did play great defense. There was a lot of defense out there tonight.”
Mitchell agreed with that assessment.
“We’ve got a good group of guys, we decided to get tough, and we snapped back from one of the worst starts I’ve ever seen,” Mitchell said. “That was a scary first quarter, but we did a good job after that.”
North won the battle on the glass 35-32 and had 14 offensive rebounds to Lexington’s 11. North had a 26-18 edge in forcing turnovers.
Shooting 50 percent in the second half, the Cavaliers lifted their percentage for the game to 42.6. Lexington shot 39.6 percent.
Sanders had a team-high eight rebounds, while Handy had seven.
Jordan finished with 17 points and 11 boards for the Jackets. Stefon Moore had nine boards.

LEXINGTON (44) — Jordan 17, Reid-Bennett 14, Moore 6, White 4, Medley 2, Craven 1, Charles, Lancaster.
NORTH ROWAN (57) — Sanders 21, Handy 15, Scott 10, Shields 5, Lentz 3, Sirleaf 2, Haley 1, Stoner, Harrison.

Lexington 9 12 13 10 — 44
North Rowan 5 23 16 13 — 57

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