Chapel Hill defeats Orange 72-58; Thompson leads Panthers with 23

Updated: January 21, 2021

Suppose you’re a NASCAR driver running in the Daytona 500, figuring the race is going to be the standard 500 miles. Then 100 miles after the green flag drops, you learn from your crew chief that the race will be 300 miles instead of 500.

In the modern pandemic world where games and schedules adjust on a daily basis, that’s where Big 8 Conference basketball coaches found themselves on Wednesday.

The Big 8 Conference Athletic Directors voted to reduce the Big 8 regular season to seven conference games, including the three games that Orange has already played. Originally, the plan was for 14 regular season conference games.

Under the format, only the initial meetings between two teams will count as conference games. The repeat matchups will count as nonconference games, if they’re played, at all.

It was a sour note for Orange men’s coach Darryl Britt, whose Orange Panthers are now 0-4 after Wednesday’s night loss to Chapel Hill. With no postseason conference tournament, the new decree largely eliminates Orange from North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3A State Playoff contention only two weeks into the season.

Under the NCHSAA pandemic format, only the top two teams from an 8-team conference can make the postseason, along with wildcards.

Despite the seven-game conference season, Britt still wants to play 14 games.

“We’re going to play as many as we can,” Britt said. “That’s 14. It’s just that there’s only seven conference games that will actually count. If there’s a team that we can’t play or they’re quarantined, then we’ll look to schedule outside the conference.”

As for Wednesday night, Chapel Hill (1-2) defeated the Panthers 72-58 to end a three-game losing streak to Orange. Jermaine Burnette paced the Tigers with 15 points to ruin Orange’s home opener, contested in front of the usual pandemic gathering of limited staff, coaches, socially distanced cheerleaders, junior varsity players, and plenty of empty bleachers.

Orange, always reliant on the 3-pointer with a three-guard lineup, opened without a field goal in the first 3:35, leading to Britt benching four of his starters early. Joshua Jackson drained a 3-pointer midway through the opening frame to give Orange its only lead of that game at 12-11.

Chapel Hill’s Franklin Johnson was fouled by Kyle Stanley just as the first-quarter clock expired. Johnson drained the free throws with no time remaining to put the Tigers ahead 13-12 at the end of the first quarter.

Orange missed its first five shots from the field in second quarter, which propelled the Tigers to a 10-0 run that kept them in control the rest of the night. Reserve Franklin Johnson came off the bench to score eight points in the first half for the Tigers, and finished with 12, one of five Chapel Hill players to finish in double figures.

Orange senior Jerec Thompson had a game-high 23 points, including a remarkable 29-foot three pointer in the third quarter that gave the Panthers a brief spark of momentum. Despite that, Chapel Hill’ offensive rebounding led to second-chance baskets that kept its lead in double-digits for most of the second half.

Senior Jason Franklin had 16 points for Orange, but no other Panther had more than six.

Of Burnette’s 15 points, 13 came in the second half. Chapel Hill’s Grant Ferris added eleven. Matt Polsky had 13, Jake Chisholm finished with ten.

The loss continued a pattern of streaky shooting for Orange that was best exemplified in Friday’s loss to Northwood, where Orange had four points in the third quarter, then 32 in the fourth.

“I can’t complain about the effort that my guys give,” Britt said. “They’re trying to execute a game plan. It’s unfortunate that we’re a shooting team and we’re not able to make shots. It hurts.”

Now, a combination of the pandemic and outside forces have all but guaranteed that Orange will miss the state playoffs for the fourth straight season. Britt’s challenge is keeping his team motivated going into next Tuesday’s trip to Northern Durham.

“I just want my kids to have the chance to play,” Britt said. “On top of that, we have to get right. The only way we’re going to get better is to play and fix what’s wrong. Without playing a full season, that’s hard to do.”


CHAPEL HILL: Matt Polsky 13, Jake Chislom 10, Grant Ferris 11, Jermaine Burnette 15, Carter Grubbs 6, Tyler Stillson 3, Ryan McKinnon 2, Franklin Johnson 12.

ORANGE: Jerec Thompson 23, Jason Franklin 16, J.J. Thompson 3, Kyle Stanley 2, Joshua Jackson 6, Darius Corbett 2, Ryan Moss 2, Hunter Birch 4.

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