GIBSONVILLE–It is a precious thing to go home with a tournament championship.
Plenty of great basketball players for Orange High, regardless of gender, spent their entire careers without winning one.
The Orange women’s basketball team faced the challenge of living up to the moment of a championship game on Wednesday night. The last time Orange reached a tournament final, it was 2018, when the Lady Panthers lost to Ravenscroft in the Granville Central Holiday Invitational in Stem.
Facing Northeast Guilford in the Eastern Guilford Holiday Invitational championship game, Orange coach B.J. Condron let his players know how much it meant to him. He showed up in a tie, which he usually only wears to graduation ceremonies.
At the end of the night, Jada Reed’s name wasn’t included on the All-Tournament team. But it should have been.
The Orange senior scored 13 points, tied with teammate Erin Jordan-Cornell for game-high honors, and also had two steals. Reed held the Lady Rams’ leading scorer, Tayana Jean-Joseph, to only eight points.
The game itself was anticlimactic. The Lady Panthers (7-8) won 46-25 at Eastern Guilford High School. Orange held the Lady Rams to a season-low in points.
“I think all of our players, at one point or another, really shined,” Condron said. “They all added something to come out of here with a championship.”
Jordan-Cornell was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. She scored in double-figures in all three games over three days. Jordan-Cornell, who was named All-Central Carolina Conference in volleyball this fall, had eleven points and eight rebounds against the Burlington School on Monday morning. In the semifinals against Walter Williams, Jordan-Cornell had 14 points and 14 rebounds.
“Erin has battled through so much,” Condron said. “I know she’s had to fight through injuries. She’s been frustrated. She’s been able to stay on the court and I’m glad she’s been able to reap some rewards from that because she works extremely hard. She’s put in a lot of work over the last four years so it’s good to see her get rewarded.”
Orange senior guard Nikayla Whitted and sophomore guard Evelyn George joined Jordan-Cornell on the all-tournament team. Whitted scored eleven points against the Burlington School on Monday. She added seven points in the win over Williams.
George finished with a double-double against Williams with 14 points and 12 rebounds. George, whose older sister Samantha was in the stands on Wednesday night while on winter break from Duke University, had eleven points and eight rebounds in the championship game.
After an emotional win against Williams on Tuesday, Orange was slow out of the gates against Northeast Guilford. The Lady Rams scored the opening field goal when Jean-Joseph sank a pull-up jumper. Orange reeled off the next six points and took a 10-7 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Reed had seven points in the second quarter, including a floater that sailed high through the air and dropped through the twine while getting fouled by Kiyah Sherman to put the Lady Panthers ahead 17-11.
After Jean-Joseph knocked down her only 3-pointer of the half, Reed scored again off an offensive rebound and dribbled down the paint for a lay-in. Reed drained another 3-pointer in the final minute of the first half, while sophomore Addie Atkins knocked down two free throws at an empty lane following a foul after the buzzer sounded to put Orange ahead 24-14 at halftime.
Orange held the Lady Rams to only three field goals in the second half. George had an early three-pointer to put the game out of range and send the Lady Panthers back to Hillsborough with a championship.
“When you come into a holiday tournament, your goal is to come out with two wins, at worst,” Condron said. “To come out with the championship is good for our confidence. We played some tough teams early on so it’s kind of hard to see we’re improving. I’ve told the team we are improving. We’re just playing some really good teams. Hopefully, this will give us some momentum going into the rest of the conference season.”
ORANGE 46, NORTHEAST GUILFORD 25
ORANGE–Nikayla Whitted 5, Jada Reed 13, Addie Atkins 2, Erin Jordan-Cornell 13, Evelyn George 11, Marshea Byrd 2.
NORTHEAST GUILFORD–Kiyah Sherman 7, Autumn Clark, 4, Tayana Jean-Joseph 8, Natalia Bemnet 2, Tamera Anderson 4.
3-POINT GOALS: ORANGE 2 (Reed, George) NORTHEAST GUILFORD: (Jean-Joseph).