BEAR CREEK — When you’re playing your storied rival in front of a packed gym, there’s bound to be some noise.
Add in senior night festivities — equipped with flowers, amateur iPhone photography and tissue-rich grandparents — and the lights, sounds and emotions grow even larger.
In a room full of distractions, it’s easy to be thrown off your game.
That is, unless you’re the Chatham Central Bears, who shrugged off all of the pregame hubbub to rout the Jordan-Matthews Jets last Friday night, 69-41, in the teams’ first meeting of the season.
“I told them before the game that even though it was senior night, we weren’t going to do what we call the ‘lights-out blackout’ and all of this stuff,” Robert Burke, the Bears’ seventh-year head coach, said after the win. “We weren’t going to hype it up. We’ll do the senior thing and then we’re going to play ball.”
And that’s exactly what they did.
The Bears were fittingly led by a trio of seniors in Colin Lagenor (16 points), Nick Jourdan (15 points) and Colby Williamson (12 points), all of whom made the most of what will likely be one of the final home games of their basketball careers.
“Colin’s 5-foot-11 playing against everybody he plays against on the inside because he’s our center, if you want to call him that,” Burke said. “So he gets beat up every ball game with Cummings and Seaforth and J-M … but he just had an outstanding game.”
And while the Bears technically have seven seniors on their roster, Burke claims that the trio of Lagenor, Jourdan and Williamson make up the only real veteran presence on the roster, given that some of the other seniors hadn’t played competitive basketball in years prior this season.
At the end of the first half, that veteran presence was crucial on a broken play that, had it gone wrong, might’ve completely shifted momentum before the intermission.
With 53 seconds to play in the second quarter and the Bears clutching onto a 27-21 lead, the Jets decided to pass the ball around in an effort to hold for the half’s final shot.
But with seven seconds left, Jets senior Rayshaun Alston drove into the lane, laid the ball up and it kissed the backboard and fell into the net, all while initiating contact from Williamson, inciting a whistle. Alston then hit the free throw to complete the 3-point play and cut J-M’s deficit to just 3 points.
But those seven seconds left on the clock were plenty for the Bears.
They called a timeout, giving Burke a chance to draw up a play for the last shot.
Williamson then inbounded the ball to freshman Reid Albright, who immediately bounced the ball back, allowing him to take it up the court with pressure from Jets sophomore Kelton Fuquay.
But even through the pressure, Williamson managed to find Lagenor a little past midcourt, who darted to his right and pulled up with a defender in his face, splashing a 3-pointer at the buzzer and taking a 6-point lead into the locker room.
On the surface, it looked like a perfectly drawn, well-executed play that led to a massive shot just before the break.
“Our play actually flopped,” Burke said with a laugh. “We were going to sneak (Lagenor) down the sideline, but the defenders came out in a different place and it didn’t work out. But a busted play is sometimes the best play you can have. … That shot was huge. It was a good boost to their confidence.”
“It was a good catch and a good shot and it just gave them momentum going into the half,” said Jets Head Coach Rodney Wiley following the loss. “I thought we had it when Ray went to the line.”
The momentum from Lagenor’s shot seemed to carry its way into the second half, where the Bears simply ran away with it.
It was a back-and-forth battle to start the third quarter, but a little over halfway through the period, Jourdan drained a 3-pointer to give the Bears their first double-digit lead of the night, 41-31.
From there, it was a mauling.
Chatham Central’s defense locked in while its offense got hot, holding the Jets to just 10 points in the last 13 minutes of game time.
After Jourdan’s 3-pointer and subsequent driving layup on the next possession, Williamson took the game in his own hands with three straight buckets for the Bears, a clear sign of improvement for a player who’s working to get back into form following a preseason foot injury that’s kept him sidelined for most of the year.
“He’s been back for about a week and a half and he’s just now finally getting back into shape and has really found his shot from where he left off last year,” Burke said. “He’s just getting better and better. … His knowledge of the game is the biggest thing. He’s very smart with the ball and he’s a daggone good passer.”
By the end of the third quarter, the 6-point halftime difference seemed like ancient history, with the Bears leading 51-34 entering the final period.
For the Jets, the reasoning was simple: missed opportunities and rebounding struggles.
“Our inability to knock down shots, we had some good looks there, I thought, we just couldn’t hit them,” Wiley said. “Then they’d get the rebound and they’d limit us to one shot. In the first half, we had offensive rebounds and putbacks, but in the second half, they did a better job of boxing us out.”
An 8-0 Chatham Central run to start the fourth quarter — packed with a 3-pointer from sophomore Jacob Gilliland and two made free throws from Jourdan after Wiley was called for a technical foul from the sideline — essentially put the game on ice.
The Jets were unable to hang with their cross-county rivals without one of their senior leaders, guard Colby Daniel, who “is our heartbeat,” said Wiley. He was in Florida for a DECA conference and couldn’t make it to the game.
“It impacted our rotation and that’s another guy that’s kind of like Ray (Alston) and kind of like Dallas (Richardson)’s becoming, like our heart and soul,” Wiley added. “He just gives you everything he has and it kind of rubs off on everyone else, so it just hurt us.”
The loss pushes the Jets to 2-15 on the season (2-6 in the Mid-Carolina 1A/2A conference).
The Bears, on the other hand, have won two games in a row after downing Bartlett Yancey on Saturday, 58-36, improving their overall record to 5-9 (4-4 conference).
There’s a good shot they’ll make it to the postseason as long as they outlast the North Moore Mustangs (5-10, 2-7 conference), the only other 1A opponent in the Mid-Carolina.
“If we battle and do what we’re supposed to do and win some games at the tail end, we can finish the conference in third and with Cummings and Seaforth, that’s not a bad place to be,” Burke said. “We just need to go in there and keep building what we’re doing to stay where we’re at.”
Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.
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