Missing their star player, Orange couldn’t find an offensive rhythm on Tuesday night, falling 56-48 at home to Northern Guilford in the fourth round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3A boys basketball playoffs.
The Panthers came out with plenty of fight and energy, clearly playing for Connor Crabtree, the Big 8 Player of the Year who tore a ligament in right ankle on Saturday in a third-round 67-47 win over Triton.
Orange took a 27-22 lead into halftime on the back of Logan Vosburg, who had 14 points and 7 rebounds in the first half, and a stout defense that challenged everything at the rim.
The energy kept up in the second half, but the weaknesses started to show. Without Crabtree to run the offense, Orange started to force passes, leading to six turnovers in the third quarter. With the passing lanes clogged, they settled for 3s, shooting 1-5 in the quarter.
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By the end of the third, Northern Guilford managed to tie things at 34-all.
The offensive rhythm didn’t improve in the fourth as the Nighthawks continued to force the Panthers into mistakes. Northern Guilford’s Trey Johnsen, who finished with 24 points, ignited his team’s offense with a big a three to open the quarter, which led to a quick 9-0 run.
Orange managed to claw back into the game, cutting the lead to 45-42 with three minutes left, but back-to-back turnovers and a missed free throw allowed the Nighthawks to push the lead to 49-42 before icing the game from the free throw line in the final minute and a half.
Orange head coach Greg Motley didn’t want to reflect on Crabtree’s injury, but knows it changed how his team played.
“Everything changed,” said Motley. “He doesn’t just score, he calms things down. We were hoping our kids could fight through it and just made shots, but it didn’t happen. But (Connor’s injury) is something that we can’t control, so we can’t worry about it.”
It wasn’t the end the second seed Panthers had envisioned, but Motley was proud of the team’s season, and effort in the loss.
“The kids did a great job this season,” said Motley “We were a young team, and sometimes being young hurts, like it did tonight, but they did a great job with everything they accomplished.”
Disappointed, he continued to reflect on the season and how the young group managed to come together.
“We’re bringing back a lot of guys a lot of guys who had this experience,” said Motley, who will bring back everyone except Vosburg and Crabtree – the only two seniors in the main rotation this year. “We hope that it will help them be hungry next year since we didn’t win it. We’ll be back in the gym as soon as we can. April 1.”