HILLSBOROUGH Big 10 Commissioner Jim Delaney once launched a defense of college football’s regular season (and an attempt to protect the BCS) when he claimed in 2009 that “You look at college basketball, and I would say there’s probably one must-see game during the regular season: Duke-North Carolina.”
Delaney (a basketball letterman at UNC in the 1960s) forgot the purpose of basketball’s regular season isn’t win-or-else in regards to the postseason. Critics call it meaningless. Coaches call it time for a team to develop.
It also works that way in high school, as Orange coach Greg Motley can attest.
The Panthers started this season 0-3, as Motley tried to find the backcourt combination that would fill the loss of point guard Eryk Brandon-Dean, who suffered a torn ACL playing football in September.
Never miss a local story.
Six weeks later, Orange has made the Big-8 championship a two-team race with three weeks remaining in the regular season.
At 5-1 in conference games, the Panthers were a game back of Southern Durham with a trip to Spartans Gym still ahead.
One thing Orange knows for sure is, unlike last year, its Hillsborough archrivals won’t be the ones ending its hopes for a Big-8 championship.
The Panthers defeated Cedar Ridge 63-43 on Tuesday night at Red Wolves Gymnasium. Connor Crabtree and Logan Vosburg each finished with 21 points. Red Wolves senior Peyton Pappas had 19.
It was the second game in 24 hours for Orange. On Monday, the Panthers defeated Goldsboro 85-69 at the MLK/Black Wall Street Classic at the Durham School of the Arts. At 14-0, the Cougars had entered the game as one of eight remaining undefeated teams in the state.
Crabtree, who finished with 28 points, was named the winner of the Jerry Stackhouse Award as the game’s MVP. Vosburg added 17 points and 15 rebounds.
So how has Orange gone from starting 0-3 to winning seven of its last eight? It starts with Crabtree. At 6-5, he’s among the tallest players on the floor. He’s also among the best ball handlers, often creating his own shots off the dribble and instantly creating mismatches.
“He’s had a really good season,” said Motley. “He’s grown into that role like we thought he would.”
Vosburg, a 6-6 junior, is a reliable low-post presence who hit two 3-pointers in the third quarter against Cedar Ridge, a frame where the Red Wolves were held to six points as Orange blew the game open.
“That was big,” said Motley. “Some nights he looks to shoot it, some night he doesn’t. But we allow him the freedom to shoot the ball.”
To fill the shoes of Brandon-Dean, sophomore Cameron Cavanaugh and senior Reggie Bradsher have traded time at point guard. Cavanaugh became a starter during the Holiday in the Pines tournament in Southern Pines, and Orange has gone 7-2 since then.
After its loss to Orange, Cedar Ridge was supposed to play the following night against Oxford Webb, but that was postponed due to winter weather. It prolongs what’s been a frustrating season for head coach Clay Jones, who thought the Red Wolves could compete with the Big 8’s best.
With Pappas returning and the inclusion of Chapel Hill transfer Jacob Thomas, it appeared the Red Wolves had the right high-low game to generate offense. Instead, the inability to find a consistent third scorer has led to a 1-5 start in conference play.
“I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Orange played a heckuva game,” said Jones. “They do a lot of things well and right now; we’re not. We’ve been looking for that third person the last two years, and we’ve yet to find it. Right now, it’s still up in the air.”