The Tigers got revenge on an earlier season loss and handed Orange its first loss of conference play with a 55-54 victory on Tuesday. Chapel Hill is now one game behind the Panthers for first place in the Big 8.
“This was our marquee win of the season,” Chapel Hill coach Rodney Carter said. “This was a huge one.”
It was all Panthers at the start, as they jumped out to an early 7-0 lead to force a Chapel Hill timeout.
“I told my guys to relax and just play,” Carter said. “I thought Orange might have come in to this one thinking because we got rolled last night that they would have an easy one too.”
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Ben Gaynes ended the Orange run with a 3-pointer 5:23 into the game. With 2:40 remaining in the first, Elijah Haynes tied the game up at nine.
Gaynes would add his second three of the quarter with 44 seconds remaining and the Tigers led 14-10 after the first.
The Tigers had success from three, but they took it to the hoop as well, going right at the Panthers’ Connor Crabtree. Crabtree headed to the bench with his third foul with 3:33 left in the first half.
“Our goal coming into this one was to go at him and make him play some defense,” Carter said. “Ben did a heck of a job on him on defense so I think that played a factor as well.”
Gaynes hit his third 3-pointer of the first half to put the Tigers up 25-22.
Chapel Hill went into the break with a 27-24 lead.
It was a defensive third quarter, as the team’s combined for 16 points. Midway through the quarter, Kai White picked up his fourth foul for the Tigers. Haynes gave Chapel Hill its biggest lead of the game at six with a reverse layup with 1:22 left in the quarter.
Logan Vosburg answered seconds later with a layup and the Panthers trailed 36-31 going into the final quarter.
Terry Green and the Tigers (12-9, 8-2) opened up the last quarter with a steal and a layup to take a 38-31 lead. With 3:19 remaining Vosburg grabbed an offensive rebound and finished at the rim to tie the game at 45. Haynes answered with a 4-0 run of his own with 2:49 left in the game.
The final 35 seconds made price of admission worth it, as the two teams battled back and forth until the end. Vosburg brought the Panthers (16-5, 8-1) within two with a layup and a free throw. Trailing by two, the Panthers’ Mitch Portman hit one of two free throws with five seconds remaining.
Haynes went to the charity stripe with four seconds left and missed both giving Orange a chance for the win. Portman took the outlet and ran the full length of the court and hit a layup as time expired. After a discussion by the refs, they determined the shot came after the buzzer and the Tigers escaped with the win.
“I would have preferred for us to hit the free throws, but we came out with the win,” Carter said. “I was happy with the guys we had one the line, they just didn’t hit them all tonight.”
Vosburg led the Panthers with 21 points, Portman chipped in 12 and Crabtree added nine points. Haynes led all scorers with 31 points, while Gaynes chipped in 10 points.