Northwood men’s basketball ends Orange’s season 65-52; Thompson scores 24 in final game

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Updated: February 18, 2022

When an adolescent Jerec Thompson played in the Mebane Parks and Recreation Department on a pee-wee team, he was so shy about entering games, his father Jeremy, who was also the head coach, begged him to go out on the floor and play.

Eventually, it worked, but it took a lot of pleading.

On Wednesday night, Thompson came full circle. His Orange career ended against Northwood–but he didn’t want to leave the floor in Pittsboro.

And he certainly didn’t want to take off his Orange uniform for the last time.

Thompson, who surpassed 1,000 points for his career against Western Alamance on Monday, scored 24 points in his final game for Orange. Northwood (20-3) relied on 20 points from 6-foot-11 center Kenan Parish to beat the Panthers 65-52 in the Central Carolina Conference Tournament semifinals.

As the clock wound down on this chapter of his life, Thompson ended it the same way he started it. He pulled up from ungodly distances to shoot, even making a 30-footer in the third quarter. When the game was no longer in doubt late in the fourth quarter, Thompson still sprinted after a loose ball going out of bounds, only to run into a metal stair handle that leads into the bleachers at Northwood. Momentarily, it was a scary moment, but as they say in the pro wrestling world, Thompson “didn’t sell it.” He just ran back on the floor as the final seconds of his career ticked down, showing no signs of pain.

He hugged classmates J.J. Thompson and Joshua Jackson. Together, they started playing recreation ball together, stuck through Stanford Middle School. On weekends and during the summer, they were together with the Mid State Magic in AAU travel ball. Center Hunter Burch, Orange’s fourth senior, eventually joined the Thompsons and Jackson in their journey together.

The Chargers, who are 13-0 against CCC opponents this year, will host Person on Friday night for the Central Carolina Conference Tournament Championship.

Orange ends the year 8-17.

While the Chargers beat the Panthers for the third time this year, Orange was competitive for the entire 32 minutes more than any other meeting this year against the CCC regular season champions. Thompson hit a 3-pointer early to give Orange its only lead of the game at 8-7. The Charges responded with an 8-0 run, five of which came from Parrish, to go ahead 16-7. Thompson and Burch finished the quarter with back-to-back field goals to trim the Charger lead to 16-11.

Burch scored on a finger roll to open the second quarter, but Northwood’s Max Frazier retaliated to snap the 6-0 Orange run. Northwood sophomore Drake Powell electrified the home crowd when he picked off a pass thrown by Orange and threw a laser to Frazier, who had it bounce off his hands. Powell sprinted down the floor, galloped down the lane and dunked spread eagle one-handed to send the fans into a frenzy.

Orange center Isaiah Seymour provided six points in the first half as the Panthers trailed 31-25 at the half.

The Chargers exploited its size advantage with Parrish, Frazier and Powell to push its lead to as much as 16 points in the second half. Thompson scored 13 points in the second half, while J.J. Thompson drained two 3-pointers in the third quarter to keep the Panthers within striking distance until the very end.

The game not only marked the end of the Orange careers of four seniors. It was the close of a vital chapter for Orange head coach Derryl Britt.

He started at Orange in the summer of 2018. It was the most tumultuous time ever for Orange’s men’s basketball program. Greg Motley, the winningest coach in school history, had resigned the previous spring after 20 years. A year later, Motley would take over at Southern Durham High School as men’s basketball coach while still teaching at Orange. One December day In 2019, Motley gave an Economics final exam to J.J. Thompson at Orange, then coached against him when the Panthers played the Spartans later that night in Durham.

Needless to say, it left Britt in a peculiar position. He started as a head coach in high school at North Carolina School of Science & Math, which is a two-year high school. After that, he stayed at Warren County for two years.

This was the first time that Britt had started with a group of freshman at a school and watched them grow to become seniors. Regardless of sport, the task of replacing a winning coach can be a thankless task. The seniors who are leaving Orange helped bridge that difficult transition to something more palatable to where Britt has become widely embraced by parents, students and school officials.

Britt said the thing he will remember about this team is resilience, particularly after Thompson missed the opening three games of the season after suffering a injury after he was undercut going up for a dunk during a preseason jamboree event in Franklinton. It was an injury that left Thompson in the hospital and various people connected to the Orange program furious.

In his first game back, Thompson scored 41 points against Science and Math on December 2, a career high.

“This team had to deal with COVID and injuries,” Britt said. “Everything I asked them to do, they did. This has been a special group. This is the first time I’ve had kids from their freshman through senior years. This group will always be special to me. JJ, Jerec, Josh and Burch. I’ll never forget them. There were a lot of tears in the locker room just now. The wins will come, but this was a great group to have.”

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