As Chatham Central let the final seconds tick away, senior Devonte Johnson shuffled to the Bears’ bench, yelled “let’s go” and waved his arms in the air, motioning the visiting crowd to get loud.
Boasting a 17-2 overall record in the midst of a five-game winning streak, a win against an 8-9 team sitting in the middle of the pack of the Mid-Carolina 1A/2A standings doesn’t usually warrant such emotion from the Bears.
But on Monday night, that team was Jordan-Matthews, and this season’s second round between the bitter rivals didn’t care what the records said.
Chatham Central walked into the Jets’ gym and found themselves in a gritty, back-and-forth battle in which the Bears pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 63-50 victory.
Jordan-Matthews came out the gate ready to play on both sides of the ball in the first quarter. The Jets let their defense do most of the talking early on as they used a full court press to create turnovers leading to quick baskets in transition.
Regarding Chatham Central’s main weapon in junior Reid Albright, Jordan-Matthews tried to disrupt his impact with some early double-teams that eventually turned into up-close and physical face-guarding.
Although it didn’t stop Albright completely, it slowed the Bears’ offense down by forcing their other options to take some tough and uncomfortable shots.
It also helped Jordan-Matthews that junior Brennen Oldham completely dominated the paint from the jump as he produced eight points and six rebounds in the first quarter, which ended with the Jets ahead, 17-12.
Senior Kelton Fuquay also helped sustain the Jets’ lead in the opening minutes with eight first quarter points, and Jordan-Matthews carried that momentum into the second. Two minutes into the second quarter, Jordan-Matthews stretched its lead to 10 points — its largest advantage of the night.
However, Chatham Central’s own full court press began to turn the Jets over, leading to a run in which the Bears tied the game at 24 in just about three minutes.
“We were playing some good defense, and it gave us momentum,” Albright said. “It hyped up the crowd, and it hyped us up, too.”
Jordan-Matthews still held on to a 29-27 lead at the half, but at that point, it was still anyone’s game.
Both teams began to trade baskets in the third quarter, and Albright began to heat up despite the Jets still playing him skin tight.
“I just tried to find the mismatch, get in the middle and score over the smaller defenders,” Albright said.
Scoring in the paint got much easier with about three minutes left in the third quarter. In an attempt to grab a rebound, Oldham picked up his fourth foul, opening up driving lanes that Oldham regulated with his shot-blocking ability.
Entering the fourth quarter with a 41-38 lead, Chatham Central immediately took advantage of Oldham’s absence (and timid play once he returned to the game) by attacking the basket.
Johnson and Albright took over in the fourth with a simple formula — push the ball to the rim in transition for a layup, foul or three point opportunity once the defense converged on the ball.
Others such as senior Logan Maness and junior Luke Gaines started to hit wide-open fast-break threes, and Jordan-Matthews, now playing without its two-way standout at full throttle, couldn’t stop the bleeding. With just under four minutes remaining, Johnson put the dagger the Jets’ engine with a step back three that gave the Bears a 58-46 lead.
Then, Johnson put the icing on the cake with an assist to Maness for his second three-pointer of the night, putting the lead at 59-48 with about two minutes left.
“Games like this just motivate me to play harder and harder until the end,” Johnson said.
Johnson finished the night with 11 points and five assists, and Albright scored a team-high 23 points to go along with 14 rebounds.