THRILLER: Chatham Central downs Jordan-Matthews in final seconds during 16-point comeback

BY VICTOR HENSLEY, News + Record Staff
Posted 2/14/21

BEAR CREEK — The stands may not have been at full capacity, but the energy, excitement and tension of an old Chatham County rivalry refused to miss a game.

The Chatham Central men’s …

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THRILLER: Chatham Central downs Jordan-Matthews in final seconds during 16-point comeback

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Posted

BEAR CREEK — The stands may not have been at full capacity, but the energy, excitement and tension of an old Chatham County rivalry refused to miss a game.

The Chatham Central men’s basketball team won a last-second thriller against rival Jordan-Matthews on Friday, 60-59, overcoming a 16-point first-half deficit. The Bears pulled ahead of the Jets with less than 30 seconds to go, holding on for a win that left one bench exhilarated, the other stunned.

“It was a heartbreaker for (Jordan-Matthews Head Coach Rodney Wiley) and it would have been a heartbreaker for me either way. Both teams fought hard and played solid,” said Chatham Central Head Coach Robert Burke. “We ended up on the best end of it tonight.”

To begin the game, Bears senior forward Parker Crowley hit a jumper from the free-throw line on the team’s third offensive possession, making it 2-0 Chatham Central.

It would be the last lead the home team would see for the next 29 minutes, 49 seconds of game time.

Jordan-Matthews led 22-6 toward the end of the first quarter and it appeared that this may not be just an upset victory for the Jets, but a blowout one at that.

Throughout the second half, though, the Bears continued to fight back, often cutting the Jets’ lead to single digits. 

To start the fourth quarter, Chatham Central’s star senior center Michael Moore — the team’s leading scorer with 15 points — hit an elbow jumper in the Bears’ first possession, then grabbed a defensive rebound on the other end, took the ball down the floor and dished it to Crowley for an easy layup, cutting Jordan-Matthews’ lead to three.

The Jets extended their lead back to 11 after that sequence thanks to a few made free throws and physicality in the paint, but the Bears never went away.

Free throws can be costly

With two minutes to play in a seven-point game, Jordan-Matthews senior guard Huston Causey made two free throws to extend the Jets’ lead to nine.

Then, it was all downhill from there.

“(It was) our inability to make free throws. I think if we make free throws, we win the game,” an emotional Wiley said after the game. “Just not being able to make free throws cost us. I can’t wait to see how many we missed in the last two minutes.”

After Causey’s two made free throws, the Jets were fouled six times in the final two minutes. They shot just 41.7% from the line in those six trips, going 5-for-12.

And while Jordan-Matthews’ ship was sinking, Chatham Central’s was just beginning to leave the dock.

After five made free throws (out of six attempts) and a three-pointer by Moore, the Bears found themselves within three of the Jets, 58-55.

Then, in arguably the most impactful play of the game, Chatham Central junior Sawyer Elkins, who has battled an ankle injury this season and was playing in just his second game of the year, drilled a right-side three-pointer to tie the game at 58.

With the room’s tension growing and excitement brewing for the small home crowd, Jordan-Matthews got fouled. Senior forward Eral Jones hit one of two free throws to take a 59-58 lead, then it was Moore’s turn.

Moore, acting as a point guard, took the ball from one end to the other off of the inbound pass and drove to the basket, taking a layup and having his shot blocked. But as was typical for the contest, a foul was called. He drained two free throws that would ultimately be the game-winners.

Comeback complete.

“Michael Moore, you can’t ask for a kid better than that. If he doesn’t score 20, he’s the reason everybody else scores, because they’re collapsing on him,” said Burke. “The one thing about having the depth of these nine seniors, they kept their heads in the game, kept it under control, didn’t panic and inched back into it.”

Whistles everywhere

Due to the craziness of the final two minutes and Jordan-Matthews’ free throw woes, one major reason for the Jets’ loss got lost in the shuffle: senior guard Jayden Davis fouling out.

Davis was on a tear in the first half, especially in the first quarter, where he scored 12 of his team’s 23 points, outscoring the entire Bears team by himself.

In addition to the offense he brought to the game, he also did a fantastic job slowing down Chatham Central, most notably his defensive lockdown of Moore, who had just six points in the first half, all in the first quarter.

He was one of the many victims, however, of the officials’ whistles.

In total, there were 54 fouls called on both teams — 30 on Chatham Central, 24 on Jordan-Matthews — resulting in five players fouling out and five others who were within one personal foul of disqualification.

Davis, the team’s leading scorer with 17 points, took his fifth foul coming on a questionable blocking call with a little over five minutes left in the third quarter. The team had to play the final quarter and a half without him.

“Our game plan was to put our best player (Davis) on (Moore) and he fouled out, so we had to go another route,” said Wiley. “It was early in the third and we were trying to get him out of the game at the same time, we had a guy at the scorer’s table and he just got called for that blocking foul.”

The officials undoubtedly played a major role in the game, but despite the exorbitant number of fouls — which Burke said was “probably the most fouls I’ve had since I’ve been up here” — the speed and physical nature of this rivalry were on full display.

It may have looked a little different without the wall-to-wall fans and the rowdy crowd on both sides due to the coronavirus pandemic, but where the game was lacking in attendees, it made up for in passion and competition.

Once the final buzzer sounded, the Bears’ bench stormed the players near midcourt as they jumped around, cheered and celebrated their comeback win, while many Jets players walked away with tears in their eyes from to the heartbreaking result.

While Chatham Central and Jordan-Matthews make up a longtime Chatham County rivalry, there’s still a lot of respect between the two programs. And the two coaches.

“When my teams are celebrating, I want them out of here because I know how it feels for the other team,” said Burke. “No matter who wins or don’t, (Wiley and me) can just sit in this parking lot and talk it out all night long. There’s a lot of love between us.”

Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at vhensley@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.

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