For a fleeting moment, the Orange Panthers appeared to have the Big 8 regular season championship all but sewn up.
Trailing 55-54 to Chapel Hill at Tiger Gymnasium, Orange’s Mitch Portman hit a shot at the buzzer. It would have put Orange 9-0 in league play, needing only two more wins to clinch the regular season title.
But did it beat the buzzer?
After a huddle, the referees ruled the answer was no. Chapel Hill, which was pounded 74-46 by Southern Durham just 24 hours earlier, edged the Panthers 55-54.
The loss snapped the Panthers eleven-game winning streak and makes the race for the Big 8 championship much more interesting in the final ten days of the regular season.
Orange remains in first place at 8-1, while Chapel Hill is in second at 8-2, tied in the loss column with Southern Durham at 7-2. The Spartans travel to Cedar Ridge on Wednesday night. Orange has swept the season series from the Spartans, but split against CHHS.
On Tuesday night, the Tigers took the air out of the ball against the Panthers. Orange’s 54 points was a season-low. More importantly, the Tigers double-teamed leading scorer Connor Crabtree before he even got the ball on several occasions. The strategy worked as Chapel Hill led 36-31 going into the fourth quarter.
Elijah Haynes, who hit the game-winning shot against Cedar Ridge at the buzzer on Friday night in Hillsborough, paced the Tigers with 31 points. Ben Gaynes added eleven.
Orange will play its sixth game in 12 days on Wednesday night in Hillsborough when they host Northern Vance. The Orange girls will look to go to 21-0 when they face the Vikings at 6, while the boys will follow at 7:30.
Orange defeated Northern Vance 64-57 last Tuesday in Henderson.
In Pittsboro, Cedar Ridge’s playoff hopes to a major hit as Northwood rallied to defeat the Red Wolves 65-57. Cedar Ridge led 42-38 going into the fourth quarter, but Northwood piled up 27 points in the fourth quarter to earn its 2nd Big 8 win this season, both against Cedar Ridge.
The Red Wolves were led by Colby Cashaw’s 14 points while Mekai Collins added ten.
Northwood’s (8-13, 2-8 in the Big 8) Cameron Goins led all scorers with 16 points.
Cedar Ridge is now 7-13, 2-10 in the Big 8. They host Southern Durham tonight for Senior Night at Red Wolves Gymnasium.