One thing is for certain, basketball in Fayetteville is high level and the NCISAA Sandhills Conference is one of the toughest conferences in the state from top to bottom. Every single game is a dog fight. You have to bring it every single night. Last night’s conference opener between Cape Fear Christian and Northwood Temple lived up to the hype.

Even with limited seating capacity, the atmosphere and effort between the two squads was so intense that it had a playoff type feel in January. These are the type of games that high school players look forward to playing.

Northwood Temple controlled the game early. Their defensive intensity smothered Cape Fear Christian early. Northwood Temple forced several turnovers leading to easy transition baskets. Northwood Temple led 20-13 at the end of the first quarter.

In the second quarter, Northwood Temple continued to control the tempo of the game. Jaquantae Harris, Brady Rankin, and Emmanuel Sepulveda had big first halves for Northwood Temple combining for 29 of the team’s 37 points. Northwood Temple went into half time with the lead 37-29.

Again, Northwood Temple controlled for most of the third quarter leading 46-37 with about two minutes remaining, after Brady Rankin finished a tough And-1 basket. But Cape Fear Christian didn’t hang their heads. That’s when Cape Fear Christian made their run. Immediately, Cape Fear Christian went on their own 10-0 run to take the lead 47-46 for their first lead since 1-0 to start the game. 2023 Caden Bell had a big second half for Cape Fear and was a big part of this comeback. To start the 10-0 run, Bell scored on the ensuing possession. Cape Fear Christian picked up full court, Bell stole the ball, and found Cinque Lemon for the basket. Lemon then forced another steal and found Bell for a drive and kick three-pointer. And just like that, Cape Fear Christian was on a 7-0 and cut the deficit to 46-44. A few possessions later, Bell finds Tristin Harkins spotting up for three to take the lead 47-46. The third quarter ended tied up 48-48, but this run by Cape Fear Christian was the deciding stretch of the game. The momentum had changed in favor of Cape Fear Christian.

In the fourth quarter, Cape Fear Christian stretched out their lead to nearly double digits led by a 10 point scoring burst from Cinque Lemon. Northwood Temple would score a few baskets to cut into the lead, but each time, Cape Fear Christian would respond. Brady Rankin knocked down and And-1 pull-up three-pointer for Northwood Temple to cut the deficit to 59-64, but again Cape Fear Christian found a way to answer.

Cape Fear Christian pulled out the road win 71-66. Both teams competed and left it all out there. This was only the first of what will be multiple meetings this season between the two teams. And I can imagine the next game will be just as good.

Cinque Lemon 6’6 2022 (Cape Fear Christian) (Game MVP)

Cinque Lemon had a slow start offensively, scoring just two points in the first half and only five points through three quarters, but he came up big when his team needed him the most. He scored 10 fourth quarter points, and he was doing it in a variety of ways. He knocked down a catch and shoot jumper. He caught it at the high post and drove it to the basket strong scoring in the isolation set. He attacked the offensive glass for a put-back. He had a back to the basket turnaround fade-away. Another time he caught the ball on the left wing, drove it right to the middle, stopped off two feet, and switched hands to finish with the left to avoid the contesting defender. Lemon has continued to make a name for himself and is someone that more people need to start paying attention to. Defensively, he is extremely versatile. He has the length and athleticism to guard multiple positions. He rebounds the ball at a very high level on both ends of the floor. Lemon finished the game with the double-double of 15 points and 14 rebounds.

Caden Bell 6’2 2023 (Cape Fear Christian)

Bell is a prospect in the loaded North Carolina 2023 class that will continue to make noise. The young guard led Cape Fear Christian in scoring, finishing with 17 points (12 of which were in the second half) and also chipped in 3 assists. Bell is a tough competitor who stepped up in big moments. He is crafty and explosive off the bounce. He is able to create, get into the paint, and finish through contact. He finishes really strong at the rim. In addition, he showed the ability to knock down the pull-up jumper as he confidently sunk one in from midrange as he pulled up in transition. Bell was a huge part of the 10-0 run for Cape Fear Christian in the third quarter. He showed the ability to also knock down the catch and shoot perimeter shot. Defensively, he can really bother the ball.

Tristin Harkins 6’0 2022 (Cape Fear Christian)

Harkins finished the game with 12 points, knocking down three three-point field goals. His ability to stretch the defense with his shooting ability opens up a lot for both himself and his teammates. Harkins has a high IQ and really good feel for the game at the point guard position. He finds the open man and makes the extra pass to get the best shot for his team. Defensively, don’t let his size fool you. He is a tough, scrappy defender that will bother the ball and put his nose in there to come up with rebounds and loose balls.

Jabare Perry 6’8 2022 (Cape Fear Christian)

Jabare Perry was vital to the team’s success in last night’s win. He was instrumental in drawing fouls on the Northwood Temple post players. Perry was able to give Cape Fear Christian a low post threat whether he was scoring with his back to the basket or creating second chance opportunities on the glass. Perry finished with 12 points and 6 rebounds.

Jaquantae Harris 6’1 2022 (Northwood Temple)

Jaquantae Harris continues to prove how dynamic and explosive of a guard he is, especially when it comes to creating off of the bounce and getting to the basket. The point guard is extremely tough and strong. He has the ability to break his defender down, get to the basket, and finish above the rim and through contact. He changes pace well when driving to his left. He also showed that he can knock down the perimeter shot. This improvement in his game will continue to open up his ability to drive the basketball. Harris was also getting into the paint and making the right reads, dropping off to post players or kicking the ball out to shooters. Harris finished the game with 19 points and 3 assists.

Brady Rankin 6’3 2021 (Northwood Temple)

Simply put, Brady Rankin made big time shots and plays for this Northwood Temple team. Rankin has the ability to get hot quickly and make tough shots, both off of the catch and the bounce. In the first quarter, he knocked down two beautiful pull-up jumpers, one from the midrange and the other from beyond the arc. In the fourth quarter, he buried a huge And-1 three-point field goal to keep the game within striking distance. With that being said, Rankin is not just a shooter. He is an athletic wing who can make plays off of the bounce and finish above the rim. He attacks the basket strong and finishes through contact. Defensively, he does a great job of getting his hands in passing lanes or swiping at drivers when in the gap. To go along with his 17 points, Rankin finished with a game high 5 steals.

Emmanuel Sepulveda 5’11 2021 (Northwood Temple)

Emmanuel Sepulveda finished the game with 13 points, 3 steals and 2 assists. He was a driving force in Northwood Temple’s first half lead. The quick, scrappy guard was a pest defensively forcing turnovers. Those turnovers led to easy baskets for his team on the other end. On the offensive end, he can really create of the bounce. He is quick and tough to keep in front. He is able to finish around the basket over length. In addition, he knocked down a three in the second quarter.

Julian Williams 6’9 2021 (Northwood Temple)

Julian Williams is having a monster senior season at Northwood Temple averaging 18 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. Julian Williams will be playing college basketball next season given his mix of size, athleticism and versatility. Last night, he got into foul trouble and had to sit out a lot and much of the third quarter when Cape Fear Christian made their run. With this being said, it’s important to understand that a player’s value can often times be measured by the impact they have when they are not on the floor. His normal presence was definitely missed. Although he only finished with 4 points, he still managed to grab 9 rebounds. He has the ability to score inside with his soft shooting touch. But he also has the speed and athleticism to take bigger, slower defenders out to the perimeter and drive them. Defensively, he is able to guard multiple positions. He is strong and physical enough to defend in the post, but he is also agile enough to contain guards on the perimeter when a switch occurs.