Bears conquer Mustangs, Cavaliers in conference semis, fall in title games

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MID-CAROLINA 1A/2A Conference Tournaments

BURLINGTON — Less than 20 minutes after the final buzzer sounded, Chatham Central senior Nick Jourdan stood near the door to the gym’s main lobby dressed in street clothes.

He answered questions with a sense of confident tranquility.

“I’m just doing what I’m supposed to do,” he said, nonchalantly, when asked about a shooting performance that saw him score 27 points, including six 3-pointers.

It doesn’t matter how you want to describe his offensive performance — “on fire,” “lights out,” or “absolutely bonkers” — because, at the end of the day, he’s just doing his job.

Jourdan’s shooting clinic was just one element of what was a near-perfect night for the Chatham Central Bears at Cummings High School in Burlington, where the women’s team defeated the hometown Cavaliers, 36-30, and the men’s team crushed the North Moore Mustangs, 62-43, in the semifinals of both Mid-Carolina 1A/2A conference tournaments.

By the end of the night, the Bears were headed to the conference title game in both brackets, a feat achieved by two other Chatham schools last week: Northwood in the Central 3A tournament (both Chargers teams won title) and Chatham Charter in the Central Tar Heel 1A tournament (both Knights teams won title).

In the case of the Bears, however, their respective conference championship games didn’t go exactly as planned, with the men’s team suffering defeat, 79-57, at the hands of the unbeaten Cummings Cavaliers (19-0), and the women’s team falling to the Seaforth Hawks for the third time this season, 56-32.

While Chatham Central came up empty-handed in the end, it didn’t take away from Thursday’s semifinal showing — a night that legitimized the Bears as a formidable threat in both brackets of the 1A state playoffs.

Three strikes, you’re out

Ahead of the Bears’ throwdown with the Mustangs, there was a small bit of concern.

We all know the classic sports idiom: It’s hard to beat a team three times in a single season.

Robert Burke, the Bears’ men’s basketball coach, admitted it was on his mind, with Chatham Central having already beaten North Moore by double digits twice this season — by 13 on Jan. 26 and 12 on Feb. 9.

And with the Mustangs having just upset the second-seeded Seaforth Hawks two nights earlier, 42-40, to knock them out of the tournament’s opening round — after losing to them twice this season, also by 12 and 13 points — it was obvious North Moore was out for revenge.

It showed in the game’s first quarter, with the Mustangs hanging alongside the Bears, even taking an early 7-5 lead on a bucket from freshman Colby Pennington, but back-to-back steals helped give the Bears a 13-7 advantage in the blink of an eye.

The Mustangs tied the game at 14 apiece by the end of the period, however, thanks to Pennington using his feet to score in the paint, then draining a 3-pointer a couple of possessions later before senior Logan Ritter hit the tying basket just before the buzzer.

Then — despite North Moore’s quest to slay yet another one of their higher-seeded conference foes — Jourdan happened.

After scoring a measly 4 points in the opening period, the 6-foot-1 senior took it to the next level in the second, starting the quarter off with 8 straight points, coming from two corner 3-pointers and a transition pull-jump jumper off of a steal.

At times, it looked like he couldn’t be stopped.

“Nick came out and was on fire,” Burke said after the game. “I don’t think he missed but one (3-pointer) in the first half.”

In total, Jourdan scored 12 points in the second period, including a quartet of 3-pointers that contributed to his grand total of six that helped bury the Mustangs as the game progressed.

But, again, he was just doing his job.

And his job led the Bears to what became a 33-25 halftime lead that would only grow larger.

Collin Lagenor, the Bears’ 5-foot-11 senior center, also performed his job at a high level against North Moore, helping to slow down the Mustangs’ offense — namely in the paint — during the second half.

He’s been one of the team’s biggest leaders, often playing much larger down low than his size would suggest.

“The work with Lagenor inside was huge for us,” Burke said. “He may not be 6-foot-4, but he knows how to put himself in position up front.”

“They don’t expect anything from a small guy like me,” Lagenor added. “Trying to find their weakness, trying to find my way around them. Fadeaways kind of work for me, they can’t block it all of the time.”

The second half was a killer for North Moore, which allowed Chatham Central to get out to a 10-point lead by the end of the third quarter, 44-34, thanks to a pair of late 3-pointers by junior Travis Crissman and Jourdan, who drilled one at the buzzer that acted as a stake through the Mustangs’ hearts.

Then, in the fourth quarter, it all fell apart as North Moore struggled to put the ball in the basket, waiting until there were just 23.7 seconds left — after most starters had been taken out of the game — to score their first field goal of the period.

That shot — an and-one bucket in the paint from junior Jamorion Horne — cut the deficit to 20 points, 60-40.

The Bears had done it — they’d proved the idiom wrong.

“I was kind of worried about it going in because I know the saying,” Jourdan said, “but it worked out all right.”

Strengths and weaknesses

Chatham Central’s women’s basketball team has plenty of expertise in the area of top-notch defense.

It’s one of the cornerstones of Head Coach Lynda Burke’s system.

Since conference play began on Jan. 7, the Bears have allowed more than 40 points in just three games — all to the streaking Seaforth Hawks, who won all three — and have allowed 30 or fewer in seven of those contests.

In other words, defense is kind of their thing.

And Thursday’s matchup with the Cummings Cavaliers proved it.

In the first half of the conference semifinals, the Cavaliers scored 13 points, stemming from two single-digit quarters that were direct results of the Bears’ physical defense that not only forced 10 turnovers, but also severely limited their opponents’ ability to score the ball.

In 16 minutes of game time in the first half, the Cavaliers scored 11 of their 13 points off of free throws — and made just one total field goal.

The Bears may have gotten a little too physical at times — allowing 14 free throw attempts in the first half compared to six of their own — but it undoubtedly worked.

“In the first half, they didn’t have many baskets, they had mostly free throws,” Lynda Burke said. “That was big.”

By the halftime break, the Bears were nursing a 21-13 lead and, thanks to their defense, were in full control of the game.

But that didn’t last long.

In the third quarter, Cummings benefited from the resurgence of senior forward Jahmaria Miles — who is a major reason for the Cavaliers’ bounce-back after an 0-7 start to the season — as she drew two fouls, made four free throws and scored a put-back bucket in the paint before the Bears were able to add a single point to their third-quarter box score.

Miles’ second pair of free throws tied the game at 21 apiece, capping off an 8-0 run for the Cavaliers.

Later in the period, junior Dori Paylor drained a 3-pointer to give Cummings its first lead of the game, 25-23, which ended up as the score heading into the fourth quarter.

And with the Bears’ sudden scoring woes and all of the momentum swinging toward the home team, it looked like it was officially the Cavaliers’ game to lose.

But the Bears weren’t going down without a fight.

To open the fourth period, Bears junior Kailey Green stole the ball and darted down the floor to score with ease, tying the game at 25.

It was obvious this quarter would be different than the last.

While the Bears were unable to find the basket for the rest of the game, they also made it nearly impossible for the Cavaliers to score, too.

“That’s one thing I stress more than anything else is that if we stop them defensively, then the offense will come,” Burke said. “because as long as we get more points than them, it doesn’t matter.”

In all, the Bears and Cavaliers combined for just two field goals in the entirety of the fourth quarter, with each team hitting one apiece while combining for nine turnovers.

With defense undoubtedly being one of the Bears’ strengths, their ability to win came from one of their biggest weaknesses: free throws.

Starting at the 2:27 mark of the final period, the Bears shot 13 free throws, knocking down eight of them — including six in a row from a combination of freshman Karaleigh Dodson, senior Ivey Tillman and Green — to seal the 36-30 victory.

In that same span, Cummings shot (and naturally made) zero.

“We hit some big free throws at the end, which has not been our forte this season, but tonight they came in big,” Burke said. “The second half was kind of rough, but we pulled it through because those free throws were huge.”

After their conference championship losses, Chatham Central’s men’s and women’s teams earned the No. 10 and No. 9 seeds in their respective NCHSAA 1A East brackets, with both securing home playoff games that begin on Tuesday (after the News + Record’s press time).

It’ll be a shot for their strengths — senior leadership for the men, hard-nosed defense for the women — to take them as far as they can.

They’ve already proven that it’s possible to exceed expectations.

Why not do it again?

Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at vhensley@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.

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