This is what legends are made of.
With just a handful of games remaining in his high school basketball career, senior forward Daniel Mulligan scored a game-high 27 points (a self-proclaimed career high) to help the Orange boys basketball team defeat Southern Durham 68-65 in the Big 8 Conference tournament final on Friday at Chapel Hill High School.
The win was the Panthers’ first in three tries against Southern Durham (19-4, 11-1) this season and the victory gave Orange (17-8, 10-2) its first conference tournament championship since Greg Motley took over as head coach in 1998.
“It was a really close game,” Mulligan said. “We fought the whole way and so did they, but we came out at the end and I think we did a really good job playing defense down the stretch,” Mulligan said.
Earlier on Friday, the Chapel Hill girls team knocked off Northwood 57-48 to win the Big 8 conference tournament in a physical contest that featured many fouls and turnovers.
In what was a game of runs and dramatic momentum swings, Orange was the team that was able to keep its cool throughout the night. Trailing by nine points midway through the third quarter (45-36), the Panthers closed the game on a 32-20 run to stave off a relentless and athletic Southern Durham team.
Still, the Spartans had a chance to hit a game-tying 3-pointer at the buzzer but junior Dennis Gibbs’ shot couldn’t fall.
“They’re tough, that’s all can say about them,” Motley said of Southern Durham. “They play real hard and they’re very athletic. That’s the type of team we usually struggle with, but our kids did a great job fighting them.”
Motley said his team didn’t do much differently from its two prior matchups against Southern Durham, but was quick to compliment his team’s drive and effort. Mulligan having the best game of his life helped, too.
“He played great. He’s a great guy,” Motley said.
In addition to Mulligan, junior guard Connor Crabtree and junior forward Logan Vosburg each scored 14 points for the Panthers.
Southern Durham junior guard Jomaru Brown led the Spartans with 17 points in a losing effort. After trailing by six points after the first quarter (18-12), Southern Durham opened up the second period on a 19-2 run to lead 31-20 before Orange would cut the deficit down to two points come halftime.
The N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs begin on Tuesday, Feb. 23 and both Orange and Southern Durham will host first round matchups.
Led by 17 points from Autumn West, Chapel Hill, a three-time N.C. High School state finalist, completed a remarkable turnaround from a mid-season slump and won its sixth straight conference tournament title with its win over Northwood on Friday.
In third place of the Big 8’s girls standings after a 60-44 loss at Northwood on Dec. 15, Chapel Hill (21-5) won its next 10 games against league opponents and captured the Big 8 regular season championship – the Tigers’ fifth straight.
“I think it was a tremendous accomplishment for a team with just one starter back from last year,” Chapel Hill head coach Sherry Norris said. “It says something about the tradition we’ve established here at Chapel Hill High School.”
Alliyah Chaplin added 13 points for Chapel Hill (21-5) before fouling out with 2 minutes, 16 seconds left in the physical game.
Bryn Aydt scored a game-high 19 points for Northwood (23-4) and hit four 3-pointers to help the Chargers whittle a 20-point halftime deficit down to single digits in the fourth quarter.
Most of the game was played at a frantic pace, with both teams pressing in one-on-one defenses, and both teams ended up with more turnovers (25 each) than baskets. Chapel Hill hit 19 of 48 tries (39.6 percent) from the field, while Northwood was 11-of-30 on field goal attempts (36.7).
Fourteen of Northwood’s turnovers came off Tiger steals, with West making a team-high five steals. West, the lone returning starter from last year’s 3A state finalists, also had four assists.
W.E. Warnock contributed to this report