The Orange men’s basketball program will start action today in the South Granville Holiday Invitational Tournament playing the program’s best basketball in years.
The last time the Panthers went into holiday break with a winning record, it was 2019. The Panthers were 7-1, fresh off a whopping 50-point win over East Chapel Hill in its conference opener. They followed with a victory over Walter Williams, the defending 3A Eastern Regional champions.
It appeared Orange would be the favorite to win in Creedmoor. Instead, the worst-case scenario unfolded over the course of three days.
Orange shockingly lost to Sanderson, Franklinton and Green Hope. The Panthers, who went into the event ranked in the MaxPreps top ten among 3A Eastern Regional teams, lost a key player for the season days later, never recovered and finished 10-15.
Needless to say, it’s not an experience that Panthers head coach Derryl Britt wants to endure again.
Orange will face East Wake in the opening game of the Columbia Bracket tonight at 7 PM at South Granville High School. The winner will face South Granville or Cary in the semifinals on Thursday.
Wake Forest, Northern Durham, Green Level and Sanderson complete the eight-team field.
Orange hasn’t been to the final of a holiday tournament since 2016, when they defeated Eastern Guilford to win the Eastern Guilford Holiday Invitational on the Wildcats’ own floor in Gibsonville.
Last year, the Panthers finished third in the Navy Bracket at South Granville. After falling to Cary in the semifinals, the Panthers defeated Granville Central in the 3rd place game. Orange senior guard Jerec Thompson was named MVP of the Navy Bracket.
Of all of Britt’s teams that he’s taken into a Christmas event, this is easily the most unique. For Orange’s top four scorers, this will be their first taste of holiday tournament basketball.
Coleman Cloer (17.7 points per game) and Kai Wade (10 ppg) are freshmen. Sophomore Xandrell Pennix (10.8 points per game) wasn’t called up to the varsity level until Orange’s game against Person in January. Junior center Ryan Honeycutt (9 points per game) is in the midst of his first varsity season. Mason Robinson, who had seven blocks in Orange’s win over Walter Williams on December 16, is also a freshman.
Most of Orange’s veterans with tournament experience have come off the bench this year. Last week, junior Ryan Moss played his first game of the season after undergoing surgery for a torn meniscus in September.He scored nine points, all off 3-pointers, in a win over Southern Alamance.
“I commend all five of my seniors,” Britt said. “They are the captains of this team. They really do lead the team. The fact that they don’t play as much as the younger guys, they don’t let it bother them. They knew it was going to be that way coming into this season. The fact that they accepted those roles and I can’t say enough about them.”
The youth movement has led to results. Orange (9-3) has already surpassed its win total from last season. The Panthers won at Walter Williams for the first time in over 35 years earlier this month and are still the only team to have defeated Franklinton, who are 8-1.
“We haven’t had a team this formidable going to South Granville,” Britt said. “Last year, we went over there and finished 2-1, which is what you want to do in a quality tournament like that. Our goal this year is to reach the championship game.”
The Columbia Bracket is full of familiar faces for Orange. Cary defeated Orange 69-64 in the semifinals last year. Wake Forest ran past Orange 65-47 on December 3. If the Cougars and the Panthers have a rematch, it would be in the championship game.
Northern Durham is a former Big 8 Conference rival that moved up to 4A at the end of the 2021 academic year.