The last time the Orange men’s basketball team played in the South Granville Holiday Invitational, there were high expectations.
Yet it couldn’t have gone much worse.
In 2019, the Panthers rolled into Creedmoor with a 7-1 record, fresh off a 74-56 win over defending 3A State Champion Walter Williams. Yet orange came away with consecutive losses to Sanderson, Franklinton and Green Hope, and never returned to form for the rest of the season.
This holiday season, Orange has battled an injury to its top scorer during its only scrimmage, injuries and the usual assortment of Covid issues common among many programs across the state. It hampered Orange to a 2-7 start to the season, yet this year’s trip to South Granville was much more joyous and successful.
On December 30, the Panthers defeated Granville Central 67-59 to win the third place game of the Navy Bracket in the South Granville Holiday Invitational. The Panthers started the tournament with a 73-70 victory over Rolesville. In the semifinals, Cary held off Orange 69-64.
The Navy Bracket championship game was slated to be contested between Hillside and Cary, but it was never played because of COVID issues within the Hillside program.
Orange guard Jerec Thompson was selected as the Most Valuable Player of the Navy Bracket. In three games, Thompson scored 33 points against Rolesville, 32 points against Cary and 17 points against Granville Central.
In addition, Orange point guard J.J. Thompson was selected to the All-Navy Bracket team. Against Granville Central, J.J. scored a career-high 27 points off 8-of-13 shooting from 3-point range.
The Granville Central tournament was the debut of junior Amare Morgan, who hit the ground running with a double-double in his third varsity game. Against Granville Central, Morgan amassed 14 points and 16 rebounds. Granville Central, coached by 1992 Orange graduate Mike McDaniel (who was an All-PAC-6 linebacker with the football team but never played basketball), is 12-4 overall.
In his first varsity game, Morgan scored 15 points against Rolesville. Against the Rams, Orange held on for dear life as the Rams made a late run, but Jerec Thompson knocked down key free throws down the stretch.
In the loss to Cary on December 30, the Panthers were held to a tournament-low 39% shooting from the field against the rangier Imps. In addition to his 32 points, Thompson led Orange with seven rebounds, but no other Panther had more than three. Darius Corbett added 13 points, but was the only other Panther in double-figures. Giovanni Prete paced Cary with 20 points.
Thompson finished 14-of-17 from the free-throw line.
In the 3rd place game, Granville Central led 27-11 midway through the second quarter. Morgan scored Orange’s final two field goals of the first half to reduce the Panthers’ deficit to 31-22.
J.J. Thompson had three points at halftime, but Clark Kent went into the phone booth at halftime and emerged as Superman. He drained seven 3-pointers and scored 24 points in the second half as the Panthers outscored Granville Central 21-9 in the third quarter. Thompson drained three shots from downtown in the opening four minutes of the third quarter to cut the Granville Central led to 36-32. Thompson also set up Morgan with a feed in the low post for another field goal. Then Morgan drained a 3-pointer to put Orange ahead 37-36. Ky’saun Russell and Jordan Alston scored consecutive baskets to put Granville back ahead 40-37, but J.J. swished another 30pointer to tie the game, then added another with 14 seconds remaining in the quarter to put Orange ahead for good.
Orange shot 7-of-11 from 3-point range in the third quarter against Granville, then shot 7-of-12 from beyond the arc in the fourth quarter. J.J. Thompson added three more 3-pointers in the fourth quarter.
Again, illness, injures and interruptions to the schedule have impacted Orange since the holiday tournament. The Panthers have played just one conference game since Christmas, a 88-79 loss to Person. Since then, the winter weather has limited Orange to only two non-conference games in two weeks: an 80-63 loss at Wake Forest and an 87-66 defeat against Garner.
The Panthers were supposed to face Cedar Ridge on Friday and South Garner on Saturday, but neither took place because of the snow on Friday night. On Tuesday, Orange will travel to Walter Williams, travel to Cedar Ridge on Friday, then go to Western Alamance on Saturday at 2.
With an overall record of 4-12, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say this is a make-or-break week in regards to making the state playoffs.