RALEIGH — Cardinal Gibbons handed Big Eight 3A Conference boys basketball leader Hillsborough Orange its first league loss of the season with a 54-47 win on Friday night.
Orange (15-3, 7-1) is ranked No. 5 in The News and Observer poll and got there by being a balanced, athletic team.
The Crusaders, though, evened their league record at 4-4 and overall record at 9-9 with the upset. Gibbons never trailed in the game, but Orange rallied to tie the score three different times in the fourth quarter.
“Early on, we scheduled Broughton, Cary, and Durham Jordan and we were in similar situations early and we weren’t able to close games,” Gibbons coach Marque Carrington said. “Whether it was missing free throws, or getting that key stop or getting that key rebound, making that key layup. I believe those games got us prepared for tonight. We were able to close it out and I was very proud of our guys.”
Orange tied the score at 45 with 2:38 to play. Senior post player Moses Romocki hit a follow shot for the Crusaders and Nicholas Forbes hit two free throws for a 49-45 lead with just 40 seconds to play.
“I thought we came out and played flat,” Orange coach Greg Motley said. “We were still in the game, but just needed to make some plays there late. This was a tough game for our kids, a rivalry game, and hopefully we can get focused. This was just a game we couldn’t pull out.”
The Panthers were playing without 6-foot-3 senior J.D. Brooks, who was on a football recruiting trip. Brooks was averaging a double-double for coach Greg Motley’s team.
Romocki led his team with 18 points and also stepped up when fellow frontcourt players Justin Reid (10 points) and Logan Bugg (8 points) fouled out.
“Moses made big plays in the second half,” Carrington said. “He helped bring the ball up the floor, made key free throws and layups and did a good job rebounding the whole night. The senior stepped up.
“We have multiple ball handlers and they didn’t freak. This win was huge because this is what matters, conference games. Lots of guys stepped up. John Cunningham, a senior, works hard and is a dream. Off the bench Logan Bugg and Nick Forbe came in and made some free throws and handled the ball. I could go on and on. All our guys contributed.”
Tay Jones, Keegan Crabtree and C.J. Brown each scored nine for the Panthers, who also played Thursday night.