Orange boys hang on to beat Monroe in season opener

There’s always lots to learn when it comes to November basketball and both the Orange County and William Monroe boys had their moments trying to shake off the rust. For the Dragons it was the first half, for the Hornets, the third quarter. In the end though, a solid back-and-forth took place and thanks to some nice work in the paint from Kyrie Carter and and some outside shooting from JJ McDonald, Orange was able to hang on 43-42 in a game that saw a truly bizarre last 4.4 seconds, where, technically nothing happened on the scoreboard, but an awful lot did between the lines.


“It was gritty finish and we have to shoot better from the free throw line, 3-for-11 in the fourth and that’s obviously something we have to improve on that so we don’t have to grit our teeth as much down the stretch but I was proud of guys for battling for holding on,” said Orange coach Adam Utz.


While Orange was able to go up 43-40 late in the fourth on a Jireek Washington free throw, Monroe was able to get it to 43-42 with 4.4 seconds to go thanks to a slick jumping feed from Alex Kinsey underneath to Calvin Turner. Then the Hornets inbounded the ball, had the buzzer go off while the clock was still running, confusing both sides. That wound up allowing the Hornets to head to the free throw line with 1.6 seconds. After two misses, the Dragons got the ball back with a timeout despite not actually possessing the ball and just 0.2 seconds being run off the clock. Monroe drew up a nice inbounds play that saw Kinsey get a clean look from deep at the basket but it was just a half inch off to the left and after all that chaos, it was still 43-42 for Orange.


Before the frenzy, what took place was a solid see-saw game. The first quarter was close with six lead changes to start but the Hornets surging late in the frame with a 3-pointer from Sihle Mthethwa and another from McDonald in the second quarter to make it 16-9. The first half was shaky for both teams offensively and the Hornets went into the break up 19-14.


“I told our guys at the half that Monroe was not going to come out in the third playing soft,” Utz said. “They were going to come out with a bang and they did.”


Indeed that was the case.  The Dragons were saddled with foul trouble in the first half. Nonetheless, the third quarter belonged to Monroe. The Dragons got a 7-0 run all from Kinsey to go up 21-19 in just a two minute span. Then Logan Barbour took over and poured in the next eight points for Monroe. While Carter, Washington and Chance Williams were able to get going offensively late in the third for the Hornets, the Dragons were able to head to the fourth quarter up 32-29.


“We just didn’t make the shots in the first half,” said Monroe coach Brett Maynard. “One of the things I harped on was that I was still confident in their shooting ability but they needed to be too. We executed a lot better in the second but we’ve still got a ways to go. We overcame a lot of adversity, a lot of foul trouble. But it’s learn as we go.”


The fourth was a blow-for-blow exchange. McDonald gave his team a 36-34 lead with a big 3-pointer just a few minutes into the frame.


“The freshman, he came out and did it for us,” Utz said. “He’s got so much potential. I’m looking at big things from him where he’s got the ability to put together one of those careers, put his name up there with Bradley Starks, Quintin Hunter and be a potential all-time great here at Orange. That’s saying a lot. Those are big names but as a freshman he stepped up tonight and showed he might be ready.”


Then it was Carter’s turn in the paint for the Hornets as he had a pair of of field goals in the paint. But with Kinsey, Barbour and Turner all coming up with answers on the other end of the floor, Orange could never get it’s lead to more than three points in the final four minutes.


“It was exciting,” Carter said. “I missed last season with the injury but I was excited to be back out here with my brothers. I’m excited to go to work everyday with them.”


On the night for the Hornets, Carter led with 14 points, another big thing missing from last year as a knee injury kept him out from the ‘17-’18 campaign.


“I told him him coming into the year that there is a lot riding on his shoulders for us,” Utz said. “He’s a Charles Barkley kind of kid that’s 6-1 but plays like he’s 6-4. He’s got to be our bruiser inside and I’m proud of him for bouncing back and playing with a vengeance today.”


McDonald chipped in 10 for Orange. Mthethwa had seven points.


For the Dragons, Kinsey and Barbour both finished with 11 points while Parker Woolford had seven. And despite all the struggles, offensively and foul trouble wise, the Dragons were just one shot away from a potential win.


“When that horn went off during the play I just told our guys to go with the next play mentality, we did, we got an open look and I thought it was going in at first but it was tough shot, tough situation,” Maynard said. “It’s tough, but it was a fun game, a fun situation to be in.”


Monroe (0-1) hosts its Tipoff tournament this Friday with Chelsea Academy and a potential game on Saturday with a win. Orange (1-0) stays at home and in rivalry mode with Madison County visiting on Friday as well.