Tuesday night was loaded with regional finals that couldn’t be missed. In the NCHSAA 3A East Regional, West Carteret (11-2) hosted Northwood (13-2) for the chance to go to the State Championship.
The first quarter started with West Carteret’s Jaxon Ellingsworth putting his team on the board first with a drop-off finish. Ellingsworth picked up right where he left off after his dominant performance in the Regional Semifinals this past Saturday. He proceeded to then knock down back-to-back baseline jumpers against the Northwood zone, showcasing his soft shooting touch.
Northwood’s freshmen trio of Jarin Stevenson, Drake Powell, and Fred Whitaker carried the load to start the game. They were active on the defensive end. To end the quarter, Whitaker drove into the paint and found Stevenson for the finish just before the buzzer. West Carteret held onto a 12-9 lead at the end of the first.
To start the second quarter, once again West Carteret struck first. Dylan McBride found James Kenon on the drive for the layup. Senior guard, Troy Arnold, responded with a pull-up jumper on the other end for Northwood. But once again, West Carteret’s Jaxon Ellingsworth continued to impress, scoring 11 points in the quarter. He was scoring on put-backs, midrange jumpers, and finishing through contact at the rim.
West Carteret went on a run and extended the lead to 24-16. But Northwood didn’t quit. They continued to chip away at the lead. Senior guard Colby Burleson knocked down back-to-back three-pointers. The first came right after Drake Powell forced a steal and saved the ball off the opponent to get the ball underneath their own basket. Powell then found Burleson for the first three. Next, Jarin Stevenson had a nice drive and kick to Burleson for the second three-pointer. Northwood cut the deficit to one point going into halftime as West Carteret had the 32-31 lead.
West Carteret came out of halftime and went on a 9-3 run to start the half. Ellingsworth drilled a pull-up jumper. Then James Kenon found Ellingsworth on the backdoor for the dunk to extend the lead to 43-35. Following that, senior guard Gavin Gillikin finished the and-one to extend the lead to 11 at 46-35. Gillikin had a huge third quarter, scoring 7 of his 13 points. Gillikin was scrappy on the defensive end, forcing a steal and converting on the other end giving West Carteret their biggest lead of the ball game at 48-35. West Carteret entered the fourth quarter with a 13 point lead at 50-37.
Freshman phenom, Jarin Stevenson, came out in the fourth burying a three-pointer on the first possession for Northwood. He followed that up with a left corner three-pointer to cut the deficit to 50-43. Northwood’s freshmen trio wasn’t afraid of the big moment that’s for certain. Fred Whitaker was getting into the paint and creating opportunities for himself and his teammates. He found Powell on a drive and kick for one of Powell’s threes in the quarter. Then Whitaker had a beautiful scoop finish with the left hand on the right side of the basket to cut the deficit to 58-53.
Northwood kept chipping away. Drake Powell scored 8 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter. He connected on a give-and-go off the baseline out of bounds set for the layup. The score was now 59-55 in favor of West Carteret. Powell then knocks down a clutch three-pointer moments later. West Carteret was now leading 61-58.
With 1:10 remaining, Northwood tied the ball game up with without a doubt the best example of offensive execution on the night. Drake Powell came off the pick and roll with Jarin Stevenson on the right wing, and found Stevenson on the roll. Stevenson got to baseline and made a textbook baseline drift pass to Fred Whitaker for the left corner three-pointer to tie the game up at 61.
Northwood was able to come up with a stop on the defensive end, and send the game to overtime, erasing a 13-point fourth quarter deficit.
Northwood carried this momentum into overtime. Fred Whitaker forced a steal on the West Carteret post entry pass. Drake Powell then knocks down his third three-pointer on the night. Northwood started on an 8-0. West Carteret’s Jaxon Ellingsworth knocks down a three-pointer of his own to cut the Northwood lead to 69-64. But once again, Northwood’s freshmen trio came through, scoring all 11 of their team’s points in overtime. Whitaker and Stevenson both knocked down four free-throws a piece in overtime to seal the win.
Northwood finished with a 72-69 victory and will face Weddington on Saturday for the NCHSAA 3A State Championship.
Final Stats: Northwood
Jarin Stevenson – 28P, 10R, 4A, 1S
Drake Powell – 16P, 3R, 1A, 4S
Fred Whitaker – 13P, 3R, 4A, 4S
Troy Arnold – 7P, 1R
Colby Burleson – 6P, 1R, 1A
Tucker Morgan – 2P, 1R, 2A, 1S
Final Stats: West Carteret
Jaxon Ellingsworth – 32P, 4R, 2A
Gavin Gillikin – 13P, 2R, 1A, 1S
Rob Cummings – 9P, 5R, 6A
James Kenon – 7P, 10R, 2A, 2B
Shane Graves – 5P, 1R, 2A
Dylan McBride – 3P, 2R, 2A, 1S
Let’s take a look at the standouts from the game:
Jarin Stevenson 6’8 2024 (Northwood)
Jarin Stevenson continues to make his case as the best freshman in North Carolina’s 2024 class. He has averaged 13 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 assists on the season. In the State Semifinals, the young man finished with the double-double of 28 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists, and 1 steal. His skill set is advanced beyond his years. What impresses me the most is his patience on the offensive end. He knows his spots, gets to them, and shoots quality shots. He doesn’t force things. He has the ability to score around the rim. He can step out on the perimeter and knock down the three-point shot or he can create off the bounce and attack the basket. He draws fouls and goes to the line and consistently knocks them down. Last night, he went 16-18 from the foul line. In addition, his passing ability is extremely impressive. He had a very nice pass to Drake Powell from the high post on the backdoor which led to Powell being fouled on the layup. I mentioned it earlier, but the baseline drift pass to Fred Whitaker for the game-tying three-pointer at the end of regulation was textbook.
Jaxon Ellingsworth 6’8 2022 (West Carteret)
Jaxon Ellingsworth has had a monster junior season averaging 20.5 points and 10 rebounds per game. Ellingsworth finished with a game-high 32 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 assists. The left-handed forward is extremely skilled. He has great touch from all over the court. He knocked down four midrange jumpers on the game both off the catch and off the bounce. Ellingsworth also showcased his range with the ability to knock down the perimeter shot. He has the ability to finish at the rim through contact. In addition, he utilizes his length well on the offensive glass and creates second chance scoring opportunities. Regardless of his size and position, he sees the floor really well. He is patient in the post and does a nice job of skipping the ball out to the opposite wing when the double team comes. Ellingsworth’s stock is sure to rise.
Drake Powell 6’5 2024 (Northwood)
Freshman Drake Powell finished the game with 16 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, and 4 steals. On the defensive end, he does a nice job of utilizing his length to force steals. He disrupts ball handlers and gets deflections when guarding the ball. On the offensive end, Powell played with poise and made big shots all night. Eight of his 16 points came in the fourth quarter. His perimeter shooting continues to improve. He looked confident every time the ball left his hand. He knocked down three three-pointers on the night. Also, he showcased his ability to get to the midrange and knock down the pull-up jumper. Drake Powell has a bright future ahead of him.
Fred Whitaker 5’8 2024 (Northwood)
Let’s not forget about Northwood’s freshman point guard Fred Whitaker. Whitaker was terrific on both sides of the ball in their win. He finished with 13 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, and 4 steals. Whitaker set the tone early in the game with his activity on the defensive end of the floor. He was pressuring the ball and creating turnovers. In the overtime, he fought around the post and deflected the post entry pass. His team came up with the ball and converted on the other end. Offensively, he did a really good job of creating off the bounce, getting into the paint, and finding the open teammate. In addition, he also knocked down timely three-pointers and clutch free throws in overtime. He buried the game-tying corner three-pointer to send the game into overtime. Whitaker is a vital piece of this Northwood team’s success.