The Orange girls routed Northwood to claim the Big 8 Conference tournament title on their home court on Friday, but the Southern Durham boys ensured there would be no Panthers sweep Friday night.
Orange’s girls won 58-34, while Southern’s boys won 87-75 against Orange despite 43 points from Connor Crabtree.
Revenge can be oh so sweet.
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Orange High senior Kaylen Campbell scored 23 points to lead the Panthers to a surprisingly easy win over Northwood to take the sweep as the Big 8 Conference regular season champions and tournament champs.
The victory was extra sweet as it erased a bitter 63-60 defeat to the Chargers just three weeks ago that halted Orange’s 21-game winning streak.
“It hurt so bad,” Campbell said. “It was senior night and we wanted to win. Our game plan tonight was to play hard and win one for the school.”
Senior Jazlyn Watson said the difference between Friday night’s victory and the earlier matchup was concentration.
“Our focus wasn’t there [in the loss,],” she said. “We didn’t have our head in the game.”
The Panthers needed to keep their focus in the early going as both teams were colder than a polar bear in Alaska.
Northwood opened with a 6-0 lead behind senior guard Kristian Eanes, but the Panthers calmed down to score seven straight. Senior Mia Davidson (one of seven seniors on the team) gave
Orange a spark with four points and six rebounds – four on offensive – in the first quarter to give the Panthers a brief 7-6 lead before falling behind 10-7 in the low-scoring first quarter.
But Campbell was just starting to find her groove. Her two free throws pulled Orange even at 11 early in the second period. Then Watson nailed the game’s first 3-pointer to give the Panthers
their first lead with 3:23 left in the first half.
The duo combined for 11 points in the period to turn a 10-7 deficit into a 19-14 halftime lead.
“It was frustrating to watch at times,” said Orange coach B.J. Condron, who was named Big 8 coach of the year and who won his first championship. “At our practices, they shoot lights out,
but our success all season has been predicated on our defense. If it’s not working, it doesn’t matter how good we shoot.”
The Panthers ramped up their defensive effort in the third, helped in part by switching to a zone defense, something they rarely used during the regular season, Condron said.
The switch forced a cold-shooting Northwood farther out from the basket. The Chargers were outscored 39-20 in the second half, including 22-6 in the fourth.
Meanwhile, Campbell had taken control of the offense, scoring Orange’s first six points to start the third to open their lead to seven, and the first six again in the fourth for a 42-30 Orange margin.
“Our zone slowed them down and stopped their penetration, and that made the difference,” Condron said.
Although Condron said he’s “excited and a little worried” that the team has never been to the state playoffs, Campbell has no such reservations.
“We’re ready. We’ve worked so long and hard for this, and now we have our full team back. We just have to keep up the hard work,” she said.
Southern unleashed a torrent of thunder and lightning, stunning host Orange in the tournament title game, and proving the age-old adage the third time’s a charm.
The Spartans’ Rashad Dixon had three slam dunks among his 16 points, and Omri Moore added another to supply the thunder. Antonio Daye Jr. and Jomaru Brown zipped in and around defenders, and careened through lanes small and wide to add the lightning, scoring 27 and 23 points, respectively.
It was a bitter sting for the Panthers, who defeated Southern twice earlier in the season. Although Crabtree poured in a sizzling 43 points, Orange didn’t look in sync, missing money shots, turning the ball over, and not being able to stop Southern’s relentless drive to the basket.
“They give it to me, they want me to tear it down, and I try to tear it down for them,” Dixon said of his rim-bending dunks.
“It means the world to us to step out here, underestimated as usual, to win,” Dixon said. “It’s redemption because we were on the bus talking about it earlier, saying there’s no way they’re going to beat us three times. We were all just focused on this game.”
“It was just a hard-fought game. We just went out and got the win,” Daye said. “My teammates gave me the ball. I was focused all night and attacking the rim.”
Daye said the Spartans didn’t change up anything from the first two games.
“We just kept it in, and kept fighting. We didn’t worry about the crowd,” he said.
The first period started hot for the Spartans, but didn’t go so well after that. Before the oversized Orange student section even got their cheers on, Daye drained a 3-pointer right in front of them at 7:39 to strike first blood.
But Southern didn’t score again until there were 13 seconds left in the period, when Daye stole the ball from the Panthers’ Mitch Portman and took it upcourt for a layup. But the Panthers, fueled by 10 points from Crabtree, led 12-5 at the end of the eight minutes.
“We got here right before game time, that’s why we looked like we were sleep walking in the first quarter,” Hall said of a misunderstanding on the start time, which had been changed at the last minute.
“We scored five points in the first quarter,” he said, “and I think that kind of woke us up after we saw where we were at on the scoreboard.” They outscored Orange 34-24 in the second period.
Orange effectively closed down lanes and crowded out under the basket in the first period, but at 7:15 of the second period the Panthers’ Logan Vosburg picked up his second foul and Orange coach Greg Motley pulled him to the bench for the remainder of the period.
That had an immediate impact on the rebounding, and on the bread-and-butter Vosburg-Crabtree scoring threat combo.
“He’s a big body man and he’s smart down there,” Hall said of Vosburg. “He uses all of his abilities to his advantage. When he got out we knew we could attack the rim a little bit more. He’s been a rim protector for them all year long, been clogging up the lane, and we took advantage of that.”
Hall said winning the conference tournament should pay post-season dividends.
“That’s what we wanted to do going in. We won 10 out of our last 11, the last loss being here, so we wanted to get some revenge,” Hall said. “We got a good win going into the playoffs.”
Orange had a nine-point lead in the first period, and Southern twice led by as many as 15 points. There were seven lead changes and one tie after that.
In the third period Crabtee pumped in a 3-pointer at 5:43 to tie the score 43-43, but the Spartans’ Moore and Brown hit consecutive 3-pointers from the top of the key and the perimeter to grab a 49-43 lead, and they never relinquished it.
Dan E. Way