It was a perfect night for Orange men’s basketball.
Members of the 1969 Orange 3A State Championship team were seated behind the Panther bench. They reminisced about the old days and marveled at the modern day Orange team on the floor in front of them.
And what a show that saw.
In a game that bore no resemblance whatsoever to its previous tilt against Southern Alamance, Orange sophomore Coleman Cloer scored 40 points, a career-high, while sophomore center Mason Robinson added 14 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks in a 93-39 rout of the Patriots at Panther Gymnasium. Orange, which never led in regulation in its first matchup against the Patriots, never trailed on Friday night.
Cloer’s outing was the most points for an Orange player since Jerec Thompson, who was in the building on Friday night, scored 40 points against Eastern Alamance in his final game at Panther Gymnasium on February 11, 2022.
Sophomore Kai Wade added a season-high ten assists as the Panthers won on Senior Night, where Ryan Honeycutt (out for the season with a broken thumb), Ryan Moss and Malykhai Justice were honored in a pregame ceremony.
Coming off its first conference loss to Person, the Panthers claimed a share of the Central Conference title with its most complete performance of the year.
The cherry on top of the sundae came roughly 45 minutes after the game from, of all places, Roxboro, where Orange had just lost on Tuesday night. Person rallied in the final minutes to beat Eastern Alamance 74-69, eliminating the Eagles from the title race.
With that, the Panthers claimed its first regular season championship since the 2016-17 season and the first for Orange coach Derryl Britt since he came aboard in 2018.
“I’m so happy for these guys,” Britt said before the Person game had ended. “They work really hard and I’ve put them through a lot. And I know I do. But when they can come out and have games like this….I tell them that on night like this, it should be a showcase. It should be a showcase to all the witnesses why we work so hard, why we’re so disciplined. They understand it.”
Of Orange’s ten conference wins, they never trailed in seven of them.
An outsider who had never seen these two teams before Friday night would find it inconceivable that, just seven weeks ago, the Patriots had the Panthers dead to rights in Graham. On December 14, Southern Alamance led 60-55 with :28 remaining in regulation. Cloer, in his first game of the season, hit two free throws with :5.8 left to tie the game, leading to an extra session and Orange winning in a 15-round war of a game.
The rematch was a first-round knockout.
Mason Robinson slammed home the opening points off an offensive rebound and they were off to the races. Cloer had a personal 7-0 run, including a lay-in off a feed from Wade, which led to a Southern Alamance time-out. Cloer and Xandrell Pennix closed out the first quarter with consecutive 3-pointers and Orange led 25-11 at the end of the first quarter.
Pennix opened the second quarter with a corner shot from beyond the arc, following by an ally-oop where Robinson laid in a feed from Freddy Sneed. That triggered a 14-1 run, which included two more three-pointers from Cloer and another from Pennix.
Orange shot 12-of-25 from 3-point range, with Pennix going 4-of-5. Cloer was 5-of-13 from downtown. Ethan Ellis, who was called up from the junior varsity, hit both of his 3-point attempts in his first varsity game.
Southern Alamance (13-9, 6-4) lost 6-foot-3 guard Liam Forester last month for reasons that the Patriots coaching staff didn’t care to discuss. Forester scored in double-figures in ten of his 16 games before he left the team after a loss to Burlington Christian Academy on January 15.
It was showtime in the second half, which included Cloer flushing down a 180-degree dunk and Sneed finally slamming home a dunk, sending the Orange student section into delirium.
The night was perfect right down to the junior varsity game, where Orange won 52-51 following a 3-pointer from James Kenley with nine seconds remaining. The junior varsity Panthers are coached by Orange graduate Robbie Liner.
The conference championship guarantees Orange a first-round home game in the 3A State Playoffs and a bye into the semifinals of the Central Conference Tournament. The semifinals will be held at Person High School, where Orange will play on February 20.
The last time Orange hosted a state playoff game, it was against Northern Guilford in the 3A State Quarterfinals. Without star Connor Crabtree, who injured his ankle against Triton in the 4th round, Northern Guilford held off the Panthers 56-48.
ORANGE 93, SOUTHERN ALAMANCE 39
SOUTHERN ALAMANCE: (Jordan Moore 7, Seth Dalrymple 1, Riley Warren 4, Tyler Moore 7, Chris Epps 16, Myles Darrouch 2, Kolby Kronbergs 2).
ORANGE: (Mason Robinson 14, Xandrell Pennix 14, Freddie Sneed 7, Kai Wade 7, Coleman Cloer 40, Ethan Ellis 6, Hector Garrido 5)