McMullin finishes as he started as Orange beats Northern

Updated: February 15, 2020

by Tim Hackett

It was a pretty remarkable way for Joey McMullin to bookend his senior season. Sandwiched in between his first and his final games this season is a lot of tumult he surely wishes were different, but on this February Friday in Durham the Orange senior ended his final regular season the same way he started it back in late November – an outing of better than 35 points on about a half-dozen made three-pointers, lights-out shooting, nearly mistake-free play, and, to top it off, a Panther victory.

Nearly three months after McMullin kickstarted the Panther season with a career-best 38-point performance in Orange’s season opener, McMullin sealed the season with a 36-point effort, keyed by a career-high seven threes, adding in his tenth double-double for good measure, and leading Orange (10-14, 4-10 Big 8) to a 65-56 win over Northern Durham (4-20, 2-12) on Friday night at Poe Gymnatorium. With the win, Orange avoided finishing the year in last in the conference, dooming the Knights to the basement position via their tenth straight loss.

“Joey was super big inside and out tonight,” Orange head coach Derryl Britt said via text postgame. “He put the team on his back and carried us to victory!”

This game was as close as expected in the first half, following an ultra-tight 60-59 Northern win last month in Hillsborough (the Knights’ last win prior to this ten-game losing streak). The Knights scored the final six points of the first half to level the score at 25 apiece going into the break, and scored five of the first seven of the second half to take a 30-27 lead early.

They would not lead again. Orange scored the next 11 points, anchored by a pair of McMullin threes, to pull ahead, and outscored Northern 21-10 over the final six minutes of the frame. Jason Franklin was strong throughout the night for Orange, hitting consecutive threes of his own in that stretch to stake the Panthers to a 48-40 lead after three.

The two thinnest teams in the conference were being tested and going toe-to-toe – both schools sport only ten men on their rosters, and due to injuries and other factors both head coaches really only had eight guys to deploy. And Orange’s depth – or lack thereof – was tested even further when McMullin came up hobbling after he wrenched away a defensive rebound and ran almost literally into the bleachers before hitting the floor in pain. Some Northern trainers taped up his ankle on a table near the Northern bench, but his team soldiered on even with their best player sidelined. JJ Thompson hit a cutting layup. Kendrell Brooks converted a nice spinning floater. And Hunter Burch connected on two stickback layups, part of a career-best four-point day for a guy who had scored just ten points all season. But in the meantime Northern went on a run. They scored in all three phases – Greg Webb from in tight, Torrey Alston from midrange, and Derrien Hicklen from (extremely) deep – and started the fourth quarter on a 9-4 run to pull within 52-49.

Ultimately, McMullin valiantly returned to the game and promptly hit another three – his seventh – and a two shortly thereafter to put Orange back ahead 60-51. With time winding down, Northern tried to foul to preserve the clock, but the Knights had committed so few fouls over the course of the half that it took them forever to force Orange into the bonus. And once the Panthers got there they weren’t able to salt the Knights away, even with Franklin and McMullin, two of the most consistent foul shooters in the conference, tasked with the job. Hicklen pulled yet another deep three out of his bag – we’re talking a shot from around five feet outside the arc – to cut it to 62-56, but the Knights continued to foul McMullin, and he made good down the stretch. Northern forced up one final shot that went offline and – fittingly – into the hands one final time of Joey McMullin to wrap up a 65-56 Panther win.

“He was a beast on the boards,” Britt said of McMullin. “Great all-around game.”

The stakes were quite clear for this regular season finale: lose, and your team finishes in the basement of the Big 8. McMullin and the Panthers did more than enough to ensure that stigma wasn’t stuck onto them. There’s no doubt that 7th place in this conference will feel loads better than 8th. Their reward for this effort? Well, it really feels more like the exact opposite of an award – a trip to second-place Southern Durham in the first round of the Big 8 Conference Tournament next Tuesday. It’ll be a tall task against one of the best teams in 3A, but it will give the Panthers one more shot to extend what was once such a promising season. And it will give us one more chance to watch Joey McMullin create the magic he’s made almost all year.  

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