In a matchup of two of the top teams in the state, Combine Academy travelled to Raleigh to take on Word of God. The anticipation and hype surrounding this game was real. Combine won the first meeting by four points on November 20th at Combine. You knew both teams would be ready. Each have played a national schedule and have notable wins on their resume.

The ball was tipped and from then on out, it was back and forth, just as one would expect with two teams of this caliber. One team would take the lead, then the other would retake the lead. The first quarter was the highest scoring of any as Word of God took the lead at 23-21. The Holy Rams were extremely well balanced with six player scoring in the opening eight minutes of the game.

Khalil Marshall (Word of God) set the tone early in the game with 5 points and 2 assists in the opening quarter. He is so quick, has a great change of pace, and is really hard to keep in front. He was getting into the lane for drop off passes and he knocked down the midrange pull-up off of the ball screen. On the defensive end, he really pressures the ball and makes it difficult on opposing guards.

In the second quarter, again we saw teams trading baskets. Robert Dillingham (Combine Academy) knocked down a three-pointer, then scored another bucket, and then got to the foul line, so everyone was thinking “Is he about to go off now?” But Word of God continued to answer on the defensive end as their speed and athleticism forced Combine to shoot tough shots all night. Offensively, they only made three field goals in the second quarter, but they attacked the basket strong and got to the foul line. Word of God entered halftime with the one point lead at 36-35.

Word of God came out and threw the first punch in the third quarter going on an 8-0 to start. Po’Boigh King scored four straight and then took a charge on the defensive end. On the ensuing possession, Khalil Marshall got into the paint and found Jai Smith on the drop off. And just like that, Word of God was up 44-35.

But once again, Combine responded as AJ Smith ended the run with an offensive rebound and put-back. Combine tried to turn up the pressure, but Khalil Marshall responded by breaking the press and drilling a midrange pull-up. AJ Smith then responds with a catch and shoot three. A timeout is called with 3:21 remaining in the third quarter with Word of God holding a 50-41 lead.

Just when you thought the momentum had turned in favor of Word of God, Combine answered. The third quarter belonged to AJ Smith and Robert Dillingham. Dillingham came out of the timeout with a five point run of his own, answering with two straight baskets (one of those being an and-one). AJ Smith had 10 points and 4 rebounds in the third quarter alone. He was a beast on the offensive glass. He would then go up strong, creating fouls and finishing through contact. He cut the deficit to two points at 50-48 with 1:21 remaining as he snagged the defensive rebound and took it coast to coast for the finish. With the last shot of the quarter, down two, Dillingham drilled the long, contested two-point jumper to tie the game. Combine finished the quarter with an 11-2 run of their own to tie the game at 52 heading into the fourth quarter.

The fourth quarter started back and forth for the first four minutes as both teams struggled to score and really pull away from the other. Combine had the lead at 58-57 with 3:21 remaining. And then, BJ Keith answered with the shot of the night for Word of God. At the end of a long possession, he called for a high middle ball screen. He went off to the left, drew the switch, and was able to rock the defender back just enough to create separation and burry the pull-up three-pointer to take the lead at 60-58.

From that point on, Word of God really focused on the defensive end, holding Combine scoreless for the remainder of the game. Word of God’s length and athleticism really pays off on the defensive end. They are able to force opponents to shoot contested shots over their length, and then every single player on their team is able to rebound the ball at a high level. On the offensive end, they took care of the basketball down the stretch and knocked down free throws.

Word of God – Final Stats
Saiquone Harris – 14 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks
Po’Boigh King – 13 points, 2 rebounds, 2 steals
Khalil Marshall – 11 points, 6 assists, 3 rebounds
Jai Smith – 11 points, 9 rebounds, 3 steals, 3 blocks
Kanayo Nwosu – 8 points, 7 rebounds
BJ Keith – 8 points, 2 steals

Combine Academy – Final Stats
Robert Dillingham – 17 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals
AJ Smith – 14 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 assist
Jacori Owens – 8 points, 2 rebounds, 2 blocks
Kris Robinson – 6 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist
Bryce Alfino – 6 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist
Patrick Wessler – 4 points, 4 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2 steals
Omarion Bodrick – 3 points, 3 blocks

Word of God’s Backcourt: Khalil Marshall and BJ Keith

Is this the fastest backcourt in the state of North Carolina? The argument can be made for these two. Khalil Marshall and BJ Keith do a great job on both ends of the floor. They set the tone defensively for their squad, forcing opponents to bring the ball up against pressure and shoot tough shots off the bounce.

2022 Khalil Marshall was impressive all night. He makes it hard for any team to trap him. He is extremely quick and has an incredible change of pace. He made a living getting into the paint, whether breaking his defender down off the bounce or attacking off ball screens. He made several drop off passes to his teammates for finishes. He also knocked down multiple midrange pull-up jumpers.

2021 BJ Keith is an explosive, strong guard who is in the conversation as one of the best on-ball defenders in the state. He has the quickness and strength to matchup with anyone. Offensively, he does a great job of getting downhill and finishing at the rim. He was huge in the fourth quarter. The three-pointer he knocked down to take the lead was gutsy and proved to be the shot of the game.

Word of God’s Balanced Attack

Word of God had an extremely balanced performance with four players scoring in double figures and two others chipping in eight points.

2021 Saiquone Harris led the way in scoring with 14 points and snagged 7 rebounds. The 6’7 wing is versatile and able to score in a variety of ways. He can make shots from the perimeter. He can put the ball on the bounce and finish above the rim. He can create off the bounce and get to the midrange. Last night however, he came up huge at the foul line knocking down 10 of 12. Defensively, he is very versatile and does a great job of rotating for blocks and rebounding the ball.

2022 Po’Boigh King has the ability to really fill it up. He can get hot at any moment. He is one of the elite shooters in the state. Not only can he shoot the ball, he has the ability to create off the bounce and make plays going to the rim. He attacks the basket strong and finishes through contact. He also is able to drive it and make plays for others.

2022 Jai Smith is one of the most sought after forwards in the country. His motor is what separates him. He finishes extremely well around the basket. He tries to rip the rim off every time he goes up. Defensively, he is extremely versatile. He has the ability to guard along the perimeter and to block shots at the basket. He has great anticipation when rotating for blocks or jumping the passing lane for steals.

2021 Kanayo Nwosu came up big for the Holy Rams. He finished with 8 points and 7 rebounds. He is super athletic and his intensity and motor are extremely valuable. He is so active and versatile on the defensive end. He forces tough passes from opponents with his length on the perimeter. He contests shots at the rim. He rebounds at a high level. Offensively, he finishes well above the rim. He also stepped out and knocked down two three-pointers in the first half.

Combine’s Standouts

2023 Robert Dillingham continues to show why he’s one of the best guards in the nation. He finished the game with 17 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals. He is so crafty with the ball and a big-time shot maker who is able to make the difficult shots look easy. You can never relax against him. He is always in attack mode and at any moment, he can light up the score sheet.

2022 AJ Smith is super strong, athletic and aggressive. He excels in getting downhill to the basket where he finishes at a high rate through contact. He attacks the offensive glass hard, creating second chance scoring opportunities. In addition, he has the ability to step out and make the perimeter shot. On the defensive end, he does a great job of anticipating the passing lanes, helping he and his team get out in transition. He can guard multiple positions. Expect him to continue to make his presence felt with this Combine team.