FAYETTEVILLE — No. 2 seeded Wilson Hunt used solid shooting and defense Saturday to grab an early lead and then held off multiple rallies to upset No. 1 Orange in the N.C. High School Athletics Association 3A East Regional basketball championship game in the Crown Coliseum.
Orange grabbed an early 9-0 lead before falling behind 16-14 after 8 minutes. The Panthers fought back to lead 27-24 at halftime, but Hunt patiently worked its way inside to hit 14 of 28 shots from the field (50 percent) in the second half. Orange was held to 22-of-59 shooting (37.3 percent) for the game.
Hunt led by as much as 15 points midway through the fourth quarter.
“We just couldn’t finish some shots and score the ball,” Orange coach Greg Motley said.
Hunt missed all seven 3-point shots it attempted in the first half. The Warriors opted to try just three treys in the second half, hitting two. Orange, 4-for-8 on 3-pointers in the first half, made just one of five in the second half.
“We knew it was going to be a close game. It just came down to who could score the ball. I don’t think we played a bad game,” Orange coach Greg Motley said.
Hunt’s Quan Kent led all scorers with 17 points to go with four assists, while Keenan Tabron had 16 points and Justin Jefferson 10. All three of them were later named to the all-tournament team, with Jefferson named MVP.
Orange was represented on the all-tournament team by Jawan Chambers and Eryk Brandon-Dean. Havelock’s Kyran Bowman completed the five-man honors team.
Brandon-Dean was one of the heroes from Orange’s 69-56 win over West Brunswick in the regional semifinal, where he made eight assists and 7-of-11 shots from the field for 16 points. Chambers had a game-high 18 points and made six assists against West Brunswick.
Of Orange’s 24 field goals against West Brunswick, 22 came off assists. Saturday night, just nine of the Panthers’ 22 goals came off assists.
Orange’s Keegan Crabtree had a team-high 15 points Saturday. J.D. Brooks had 14 points and nine rebounds.
“Obviously it’s disappointing any time you come this far to be so close and still fall short of our goals,” Crabtree said. “But at the same time ... it’s something to hang our hats on.”
Hunt (25-3) will play either Morganton Freedom or North Forsyth in the NCHSAA 3A championship game Saturday, March 15, at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill. North Forsyth (21-8) and Freedom (28-1), originally planned to play Saturday in Greensboro but had to postpone their West regional final because of lingering power and travel problems stemming from last week’s ice storm in North Carolina. They were scheduled to meet Sunday afternoon to decide the West champion.
Last week’s ice storms also affected Orange. The Panthers were unable to get into their gym to practice Friday and had to re-arrange their travel plans Saturday.
The Panthers had been scheduled to play at 2 p.m. Saturday in the Crown Coliseum, but downed trees and power lines blocked the exit from the school’s parking lot for activity busses.
Orange school district officials eventually got the exit cleared in time for Saturday’s afternoon games in Fayetteville, but by then NCHSAA and Crown Coliseum administrators had moved Orange’s game time to 8 p.m. Saturday.
J. Mike Blake of the Cary News contributed to this report.