Eagles face rival for 1st place

The First Assembly boys' basketball squad has established itself as one of the best teams in the state in the last two seasons, winning 56 games and advancing to two straight state championship games, finishing runner-ups at both.

In that same span, the Eagles, under coach Dave Murr, have had a stranglehold on the Metrolina Athletic Conference, going 26-1 in last two years.

Northside Christian (15-1, 5-0) has been right on First Assembly's heels in back-to-back seasons, winning 40 games, going 25-5 in league play with all five losses coming to the Eagles.

But while First Assembly (14-0, 6-0) has beaten the Knights each time, they haven't done it by much, especially last year, when the Eagles won by seven and three in the regular season, before nipping Northside Christian by just five in the MAC tournament title game.

This year, the Eagles and the Knights are back atop the conference standings, as both teams head into the meat of their schedule.

First Assembly is led by the dynamic backcourt of Chad Frazier, who averages 20 points a game, Codi Miller-McIntyre (17 ppg) and Zac Cantadore (10 ppg), who lead a potent Eagle offense that likes to run.

"We've been able to have a lot of success in the past couple years," said Murr. "But we have a different team, so we will have to prove ourselves all over again."

Meanwhile, Northside Christian is led by former UNC Charlotte great and NBA player Byron Dinkins, who is in his first year as the Knights' head coach.

Dinkins and company are red-hot after winning the Bojangles' Shootout over Christmas break, the Knights, led by 6-foot-7 center Dionte Adams and point guard Griffin Pittman, are capable of playing with anyone in the state.

First Assembly and Northside Christian have played in some great games in the past few years. Don't expect anything less when the Eagles and Knights play twice in a five-day span this week.

First Assembly

First Assembly wants to play at a fast pace against all of its opponents and the Knights will not be an exception.

Miller-McIntyre will look to push the ball at every opportunity with athletic shooters and scorers like Frazier, Cantadore, Damon and Dante Simmons running the break as offensive options.

The Eagles want this game not only to be up and down, but end up with a score in the 80s, 90s or beyond as the teams is averaging nearly 80 points per game, while giving up just over 50 per contest.

First Assembly's only weakness is inside, where the Eagles aren't as big or talented as they have been in the past.

But the Eagles do have experience in seniors Andrew Lopane, Damon Simmons (Olympic transfer) and Ian Wilson, and they will need all of them to try to neutralize Adams, Johan Pennerat and company.

First Assembly needs to establish a full-court pace of play to control the game against Northside Christian. But the Eagles are capable of competing in the halfcourt at times.

Like it has in the past, this game will come down to who makes the most plays in the final minutes. First Assembly will have a slight advantage on their home court.

Northside Christian

After steadily improving as a basketball program the past few seasons, the Knights seem to have finally arrived under Dinkins.

Northside Christian is capable of playing fast and slow, but have a decided advantage with Adams and Pennerat inside against most of their opponents. Pittman, who will have the ball in his hands most of the time, will need help to handle the pressure and create a tempo that is under control and comfortable for his team.

The Knights have been right on First Assembly's heels for the past two seasons and have a lot of motivation to finally overtake the Eagles.

But whether they can do it at First Assembly is another question. Expect this game to come down to the final quarter.