Memorable postseason run earns Jordan-Matthews statewide ‘Upset of the Year’ award

BY CHAPEL FOWLER, News + Record Staff
Posted 6/5/20

SILER CITY — Four months ago, on Valentine’s Day, Rodney Wiley was at a loss for words. In a season full of heartbreakers, his Jordan-Matthews boys basketball team had just lost another.

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Memorable postseason run earns Jordan-Matthews statewide ‘Upset of the Year’ award

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Posted

SILER CITY — Four months ago, on Valentine’s Day, Rodney Wiley was at a loss for words. In a season full of heartbreakers, his Jordan-Matthews boys basketball team had just lost another.

The Jets sat in silence in the visitors’ locker room that night, Feb. 14, after once again faltering in the fourth quarter. They’d let Providence Grove get back into the game — falling 74-71 in overtime — and finished their regular season with a loss against the only team with a worse record than them in the PAC-7 Conference.

“You could just see the hurt on the kids’ faces,” Wiley said.

“I just remember sitting there,” senior Camden Fuquay said, “and thinking, ‘Man, we just lost to the last-place team in the conference. In overtime. What in the world ...”

But, he added, “it honestly ended up being a blessing in disguise.”

Over the next 10 days, Jordan-Matthews ripped off three straight wins against higher seeds — two on the road, one at a neutral site — to claim the PAC-7 conference tournament crown and an automatic bid to the NCHSAA 2A playoffs. For a team that entered the postseason 7-16, it was an unforgettable upset.

And high school sports fans across North Carolina agreed.

Last Wednesday, during its annual awards show, HighSchoolOT announced Jordan-Matthews as the winner of its “Best Upset of the Year” award. The Jets beat out four other finalists in the fan vote, which ran on HSOT’s website from April 22 to May 10.

When they think of the three-game run that landed their team that statewide honor, Wiley and Fuquay think of the locker room that night in February. When everyone was at a loss for words — except for one person, who finally broke the silence.

“We’re going to win the tournament,” assistant Ricky Woods said.

A pause. Then fellow assistant Reggie “Kermit” Carter spoke up: “We’re going to win the tournament.”

Their players needed the reminder.

After all, Wiley and his staff had been saying as much all season, even dating back to 2019 summer workouts, when they first saw the Jets’ talent at work. Jordan-Matthews had a strong mix of returning talent and new call-ups from its JV team, which won its conference the previous spring.

“A lot of good guys coming in,” Fuquay said. “It was all pretty exciting — it just didn’t go as we planned in the beginning. But that’s why you play 20-something games.”

Indeed, a scroll through Jordan-Matthews’ schedule reveals plenty of struggles after a 3-1 start. The Jets lost seven straight at one point, and the final scores among their 16 regular-season losses were excruciatingly close: 43-41, 48-46, 56-54.

“It did give us some confidence — we knew we could compete with anybody we played with — but we just couldn’t put four quarters together,” Wiley said.

As the losses piled on, Fuquay found himself awake late at night, rehashing key moments in his head before glancing at his alarm clock and realizing it was 2:30 or 3 a.m.

“I’ve got to get up and go to school at 6:30 in the morning, and I’m still up thinking about basketball,” he said. “It was pretty heartbreaking, but it gave you that sense of purpose, that sense of drive to fix stuff.”

On Feb. 17, in their conference tournament opener, the No. 6 seed Jets did just that.

Jordan-Matthews zeroed in on No. 3 Wheatmore’s outside shooters, conceding more points down low than usual but winning 75-67 in overtime on the road. For the first time in a long time, they’d put together four full quarters rather than just three, or three and a half.

“After we beat Wheatmore in overtime, we just kind of ran with it,” Fuquay said. “They gave us an inch. We ran a mile.”

In the semifinals, again on the road, Jordan-Matthews routed No. 2 seed Trinity, 57-40, behind a season-best defensive performance that forced turnovers and started fast breaks.

Its offense kept rolling, too, with a balanced rotation of scorers, scrappy defenders, do-it-all guys and timely contributors off the bench. Everybody played their part. But their next opponent, before the conference title, was snow.

“We were praying for good weather,” Wiley said with a laugh, “because we knew we had to get the game in to get into the playoffs.”

Jordan-Matthews got lucky there — the game was delayed by winter weather just one day — and on Feb. 22 held off a third-quarter run from No. 4 seed T.W. Andrews to win 71-57. The Jets, winners of three straight, were off to the playoffs.

The post-game scene was equal parts joyful and emotional. Wiley and his senior class had won three, four and six games, respectively, in the three seasons since the longtime assistant took over as head coach in 2016 after P.J. Lowman left for Apex Friendship.

All of that hard work and rebuilding now felt validated.

“You probably heard us in Siler City from Randleman,” Fuquay said. “I mean, when that buzzer sounded, it was all class. We shook their hands. But after that, the party was on. The party was on, and it was a lot of fun.”

The Jets’ playoff run was brief; they lost 92-60 to Farmville Central, the eventual 2A co-champion, in the first round. But Wiley said he’ll treasure his team’s conference tournament run — and its HSOT award — for a long time.

“I’m thankful we had those guys,” he said. “They knew, they understood and they never quit.”

Fuquay felt the same. He watched the awards show with his family, and when he saw the Jordan-Matthews name flash on the screen, he patiently waited for the other four nominees to appear before the winner was announced.

It took him a good five seconds to notice the banner at the top of the screen, which read WINNER, and put two and two together.

“My hands just went straight up,” Fuquay said. “I was like, ‘Man, we did it again!’”

Reporter Chapel Fowler can be reached at cfowler@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @chapelfowler.

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