As expected, the Orange boys basketball team earned the #1 Mideast seed for the 3-A State Playoffs when the field was unveiled on Sunday afternoon. The Panthers, 20-6 overall, will face Gray’s Creek in the opening round on Tuesday night in Hillsborough.

Gray’s Creek (9-12) finished 5th in the Cape Fear Valley Conference. The Bears enter the playoffs following consecutive losses to Lee County and Terry Sanford.

Orange (20-6) captured the top overall seed from the Mideast after winning the Big 8 regular season championship. However, Southern Durham defeated Orange 87-75 on Friday night for the Big 8 Tournament Championship. It was the Panthers’ most lopsided loss of the season.

The winner of the Orange-Gray’s Creek game will face the winner of South Johnston-Southern Guilford on Thursday night. South Johnston finished 5-5 in the Two Rivers Conference, tied for 2nd with Western Harnett. Southern Guilford tied with East Forsyth for the Mid-Piedmont Conference Regular Season Championship.

The Panthers were greatly aided by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association’s ruling that allowed teams to remove four nonconference losses to its overall record. The ruling was made after Hurricane Matthew extended football season, which left basketball team across the east shorthanded once November rolled around.

Orange lost three of its first five to Leesville Road, Millbrook and Rolesville, all games where regular contributors like Ryan Sellers, Morgan Paschall, and Eli Haithock were out because of football. Since then, the Panthers are 18-3, including sweeping Southern Durham in the regular season.

The playoffs in basketball are a funny thing. There’s really no opponent film available for a coach to study and create a scouting report. Coming off its most lopsided loss of the season, Coach Greg Motley will simply try to focus on Orange.

“You never know how a loss will affect a team,” said Motley. “Sometimes, it can help you. Sometimes it can hurt you. I think with our kids and our leadership, they’ll bounce back.”

Leading scorer Connor Crabtree had a season-high 42 points against the Spartans on Tuesday night.

The tournament field can be viewed here. 

Playoff games are scheduled for this week on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Orange is the 2nd overall seed in the east, behind only Northern Nash (ranked #1 in 3-A by the Associated Press). That means if Orange keeps winning this week, they’ll host games in the next round.

It’s a 64 team field, just like the glory days of the NCAA Tournament.

Orange is one of four Big 8 teams to make the state playoffs. Perhaps the juiciest potential 2nd round matchup in the entire tournament is Eastern Guilford vs. Southern Durham. The Spartans, riding a eight-game winning streak where they’ve won by an average margin of 21 points, host Western Guilford on Tuesday night. Eastern Guilford hosts Smithfield-Selma.

Chapel Hill will travel to Nash Central. Northern Vance, which took Orange to double overtime in the Big 8 Semifinals last Wednesday, travels to Terry Sanford.

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