Orange cashed in on a balanced attack and got its running game going to hold off West Brunswick 69-56 in a 3A Eastern Regional semifinal win Wednesday night at Crown Coliseum.
The No. 1 seed of the NCHSAA 3A East tournament, the Panthers (26-8) will face No. 2 Wilson Hunt (24-3) in the regional finals on Saturday at 2 p.m.
Hunt’s Warriors defeated Havelock 68-60 to get to the regional championship game. Hunt led 19-13 after the first quarter and kept the lead the rest of the game. The Warriors were led by junior Josh Willingham’s 18 points and 12 rebounds. Justin Jefferson scored 17, and Quan Kent added 10.
Havelock sophomore Kyran Bowman led all scorers with 30 points.
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The winner of Saturday’s regional final between Hunt and Orange advances to the NCHSAA state championship finals for a 7:30 p.m. game March 15 in the Smith Center.
Orange got off to a quick start Wednesday night against West Brunswick’s Trojans behind 5-foot-8 sophomore point guard Eryk Brandon-Dean, who had six assists, six steals, and 10 points at halftime as the Panther led 37-22. The Panthers also took advantage of 15 first-half turnovers by the Trojans.
“We’ve played like that all year,” Orange coach Greg Moxley said of the uptempo pace. “We’ve got guys who usually shoot better than they did tonight, but Eryk puts a lot of pressure on the other team’s guards, and we rely on that.”
West Brunswick (20-8) gained the momentum late in the third quarter and pulled to within 49-43 entering the final period. The Trojans’ rally continued in the fourth quarter as they dominated the boards and cut the lead to 49-47 before J.D. Brooks ended the Panthers’ scoring drought with two free throws with 5 minutes, 11 seconds to play.
Brooks’ points started a 20-9 run to wrap up the win.
“We knew coming in that they wanted to play like us, fast,” Moxley said. “And we had to get back on defense. And I kept telling the guys they had to rebound.”
The Trojans ended up with a huge advantage of 42-19 on the boards.
Brandon-Dean ended the game with 16 points, 8 assists and 7 steals. Jawan Chambers led the winners with 18 points, followed by Brooks with 16 and Keegan Crabtree with 10.
Zarie Hankins topped West Brunswick with 11 points.
West Brunswick got to Wednesday’s semifinal by surviving a third-round encounter the previous week with Southern Durham, 81-79. Southern was the No. 13 seed in the 3A East after upsetting Orange in the Big Eight Conference’s post-season tournament.