The NCISAA 2A division was arguably the deepest division in the state this year. On Wednesday night, Northwood Temple hosted Westminster Catawba in the semifinals. Northwood Temple (26-7) entered the game on a 15-game win streak. Westminster Catawba entered the game with a 14-2 record. Both teams have played at a high level consistently all year.

The first quarter started with Northwood Temple’s Jaquantae Harris knocking down a transition three-pointer in rhythm without hesitation, putting his team on the scoreboard first. Northwood Temple struck first, jumping out to a 9-2 lead. Their defensive intensity set the tone. They forced difficult shots and turnovers which led to scoring opportunities on the other end of the floor. Emmanuel Sepulveda was a huge part of this. He is a tough, scrappy guard who made a major impact on the defensive end of the floor. After the media timeout, he came up with a steal and found Brady Rankin for a chance for a layup, but was fouled. A few possessions later, Jaquantae Harris grabbed the rebound and went coast-to-coast for the beautiful euro-step finish. In addition, Brady Rankin was huge in the first quarter, scoring 10 of his 21 points. He hit three triples in the first quarter to get things going. Northwood Temple jumped out to a 24-11 lead at the end of the first quarter.

The second quarter started as Westminster Catawba’s Richard Black found Lucas Heckaman for the catch and shoot three. A few possessions later, Westminster Catawba’s AJ Hamrick finished a dunk to cut the deficit to 26-16. But as soon as you thought Westminster Catawba was about to get back in the game, Northwood Temple turned it up another notch.

Again Emmanuel Sepulveda made plays for Northwood Temple. He made a living getting into the paint. To answer the Westminster Catawba run, Sepulveda drove past his defender and found Julian Williams for the drop off and finish. Next, he drove along the left baseline and finished with the right hand over the middle of the rim. By this point, Northwood Temple started to get hot. Jaquantae Harris drilled a tough fadeaway jumper going right. At the end of the half, Northwood Temple closed on a 5-0 run. Harris drove the left baseline and made a next-level jump-pass skipping the ball out to Sepulveda for the catch and shoot three-pointer at the top of the key. On the following play, Sepulveda forced another steal and finished with a layup on the other end to finish the half. Northwood Temple extended their lead to 41-21.

The third quarter started with both teams trading baskets. Northwood Temple’s Brady Rankin grabbed the offensive rebound and knocked down the midrange pull-up on the first play. Westminster Catawba answered as Richard Black split the trap and buried the pull-up jumper for two. Then Rankin drills another three-pointer on the following Northwood Temple possession. And then Westminster Catawba’s Asia Hoyle finished with a crafty layup on the other end. This was exciting.

Westminster Catawba was beginning to come into a rhythm on the offensive end there in the third quarter. Lucas Heckaman then found AJ Hamrick on the interior pass for the dunk. On the next play, Asil Hoyle forces a five-second call on the defensive end. Dorien Johnson also got in on the action in the third quarter, knocking down two catch and shoot threes.

But once again, Northwood Temple wouldn’t allow Westminster to get too close. Julian Williams was absolutely spectacular on both ends of the floor. He finished with a double-double of 17 points, 12 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, and 1 steal. That one steal came in the midst of Westminster Catawba’s third quarter run. Williams stole the ball and executed a textbook give and go with Jaquantae Harris as Williams threw down the dunk to finish the play. Later, Harris drove and found Williams for the drop off for the finish and the foul, connecting for the and-one. And then a few possessions later, Sepulveda forced another steal and found Harris ahead for the dunk. Northwood Temple held onto a 55-40 lead at the end of the third.

Early in the fourth, Westminster Catawba went on a run to cut the deficit to 60-50. Asil Hoyle found AJ Hamrick on the pick and roll lob. Then MJ Collins connected with AJ Hamrick on the drop-off for the dunk. Hamrick then later showcased his ability to score with his back to the basket knocking down the right hook over the left shoulder. Hoyle also got in on the scoring, getting into the paint and finishing at the basket.

But once again, just as Westminster Catawba was able to cut the score to 62-52, Northwood Temple found a way to answer again on the defensive end of the floor. Brady Rankin took a charge on a Westminster Catawba drive. Then Emmanuel Sepulveda forced a turnover by knocking the ball off of the ball handler’s knee. Brady Rankin later finished at the rim on a baseline drive to extend the Northwood Temple lead.

Northwood Temple came away with the 71-56 victory to advance to the NCISAA 2A State Championship where they will face The Burlington School on Saturday in a rematch of last year’s 1A State Championship in which Northwood Temple was victorious. The stage has been set for an exciting rematch!

Northwood Temple: Final Stats
Brady Rankin – 21P, 6R, 2S
Jaquantae Harris – 18P, 4R, 3A, 1S, 1B
Julian Williams – 17P, 12R, 2A, 2B, 1S
Emmanuel Sepulveda – 10P, 6R, 3A, 3S
Yohann Axel Sam – 4P, 1R, 3A
Angel Dean – 1P, 1R

Westminster Catawba: Final Stats
AJ Hamrick – 18P, 10R, 1A, 5B
Dorien Johnson – 14P, 3R, 1A, 1B, 1S
Lucas Heckaman – 11P, 6R, 2A, 1B
Asil Hoyle – 6P, 2R, 2A, 1S
MJ Collins – 3P, 5R, 2A, 1B
Richard Black – 2P, 2A, 1B
Will Jenkins – 2P, 3A