There are few things for certain as the high school basketball regular season winds down.
Last year, the chase for the Big 8 Boys regular season championship came down to the final night, where Cedar Ridge rallied from 19 points down to stun favored Orange, giving Cardinal Gibbons the crown.
Any chances of the race coming down to the final night are remote, at best. Southern Durham leads Orange by a game-and-a-half with a 9-1 conference record. The Spartans also control the tiebreaker after its 80-62 victory over the Panthers on Friday night at Southern.
The Spartans have two conference games remaining, the first coming up tonight against Northern Vance. A win clinches the regular season title and the top seed from the Big 8 going into the 3-A state playoffs.
Another certainty is Chapel Hill faces a must-win at Orange tonight. The Panthers hold 2nd place in the Big 8 at 7-2, two games ahead of CHHS. After beating Cedar Ridge 75-67 on January 5th, the Tigers dropped six straight. On Friday, the Red Wolves got revenge on CHHS, winning 60-45.
The top three teams from the Big 8 will make the playoffs, and a logjam has formed in the past two weeks. Chapel Hill holds third place at 5-4, while Northern Vance is 4-4 and Cedar Ridge is 4-5.
There’s also little doubt Cedar Ridge is playing its best basketball of the season, albeit later than Coach Clay Jones would have preferred.
After stunning Southern Durham 80-75 on Thursday night, the Red Wolves turned right back around on Friday night to beat the Tigers. By now, it’s hardly news that Peyton Pappas was the Red Wolves’ leading scorer with 20 points. What is becoming a pattern is the continued improvement of center Jonathan Hall, who had 16 points. Jacob Thomas added 12.
Since Jones inserted an extra forward into the starting lineup in Shane Hill and moved away from a three-guard setup, Hall had 14 vs. Southern and 11 vs. Oxford Webb. Tonight, the Red Wolves travel to Northwood, who they defeated 68-61 on January 8th for its first conference win of the season.
As for Orange, the planets seemed aligned to finally beat Southern on Friday night. The Panthers had won eight of its last nine, including a win over previously undefeated Goldsboro on MLK Day at Durham School of the Arts.
Plus, Southern was playing its third game in three days, hours after the Cedar Ridge loss. Turns out, Southern gave new meaning to overcoming adversity both on and off the court.
The afternoon of the Cedar Ridge game, Southern coach Kendrick Hall’s wife was on her way to the chiropractor’s office when she was involved in an automobile accident. Hall rushed to her side and missed the first half of the Red Wolves game. He gave his team pre game instructions through FaceTime, and didn’t arrive until the second half.
Once Hall’s family at home was healthy, he could finally focus on his on-court family in a battle for first place against Orange the next night What he didn’t know was how suddenly fragile his team was about to become.
Just 80 seconds into the game, leading scorer J’Tori Christmas suffered an ankle injury. He left the game, didn’t return and left the game on crutches.
Still, Southern was poised enough to bolt out to a 10-2 lead, dictate the pace of the game, increase the lead to 21 points, and withstood an Orange comeback to win.
The Panthers host Chapel Hill tonight at Jim King Gymnasium at 7.