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Fans cleared from Vance County, Carrboro game

Feb. 5—HENDERSON — After all the fans were cleared from the gym during a dramatic first half, Vance County came close to completing the comeback against Carrboro, but fell short to the Jaguars 71-67 Friday night.

After being pushed around, the Vipers showed pure grit, according to their coach, to cut it to a two-possession game in the second half.

"Under the circumstances, and everything we went through tonight, it was good to see some fight in them," said Vance County head coach Chad Wilson. "I guess they were just irritated with the whole situation, and it lit a fire under them."

During halftime, Carrboro athletic director Jon Evans took a microphone to center court and pleaded with both Vance County and Carrboro fans to stop heckling the players and officials. Attempting to deescalate, Evans ultimately, removed all fans from the gym.

"Fans were very upset, and I wanted to get things to calm down — I thought we had passed that moment," said Evans. "We had gotten to a point where we lost control of the gym. I made a judgment call at that moment."

The originator of the heightened tensions around the game was one fan in particular, an older man reportedly somebody's grandfather.

The game was chippy from the start, with both teams jawing at each other, and referees issuing warnings to Vance County for too much on-court chatter. The Carrboro student section, which included most of the girls' varsity team, was in full effect — bringing the hype to the Friday night matchup. In a 6-3 game, Taeshawn Alston rattled the rim with a two-hand punch.

But play stopped shortly after because the older fan on the baseline was hurling obscenities at the Vance County players — and Alston in particular —shouting at the young athlete. The two teams were sent to the benches so the officials could huddle and discuss what to do.

Vance County head coach Chad Wilson was livid, vouching for the safety and protection of his players by the referees from unruly spectators.

"I explained my concern, and how we needed to get [that fan] out of here," said Wilson.

Evans and others went to address the fan and escorted him and his group out of the gym. However, after two blocks from Alston and a couple of buckets for the Vipers, that fan was back in the gym, still causing problems as another technical was called on Vance County. After the technical, Carrboro's Brody Kumnick waived "goodbye" to the Vipers bench in the second quarter.

When the second quarter buzzer sounded, Wilson walked out with officials to the locker rooms. But in the process, Vance was awarded another technical, presumably for Wilson's attempts at discussion. One official walked back over to the scorer's table to mark it.

The whole time the fan that started it all was still sitting on the same spot on the bench. And amid all the commotion, Alston was ejected from the game due to his interaction with the older fan and returned from halftime in street clothes.

Evans said he made a split-second decision and took responsibility for how he and his team could have handled the situation better.

"Anytime somebody speaks to a child on the other team, that needs to be an automatic removal from the gym," said Evans. "We needed to get information faster for what happened."

In the third quarter, Evans approached the Vance County bench to inform them that Alston's ejection would be reduced to disqualification so that Alston would not suffer the standard two-game suspension.

"I have spoken with Vance County's Athletic Director and my admin [team] to reflect and improve areas that might need improvement," Evans said.

All fans were cleared from the facility — including students and parents of both sides. The only people left in the gym after halftime were essential team personnel and Vance County JV and girls varsity players, who had siblings on the boys' team — and Carrboro's cheer squad.

The second half started with a pair of missed technical free throws. After the misses, the head official invited all players from both sides to shake hands at halfcourt, urging both teams to "just play basketball."

"I've never seen that before," said Carrboro head coach Breon Hamlett. It turned from a nice, high-energy Friday night game to a scrimmage."

After the peacemaking, the action resumed, with Damien "Durk" Jones getting all the way to the cup with the lefty "lay" — making it 45-35. With no fans, the gym fell quiet. Darius Person hit a mid-ranger to keep it a 10-point game, but with no Alston, and the lead ballooning to 17, things looked grim for the Vipers.

But two three-pointers from Person got their team, and their bench, back into the game. With the game close at 62-58 with 3:13 left in the third quarter, Person's shots forced Carrboro to use a timeout.

More blows came for Vance County though, when Tyshawn Alston fouled out halfway through the fourth, and then Jones proceeded to throw the ball away in a four-point game. Contesting a Carrboro layup at the rim, Kayden Roberts was bumped into by Bakari Watkins and called for the and-one. Frustrated after going straight up, Roberts fouled out on that play.

With plenty of time left in a two-possession game, Vance County looked to emulate the girls' success and complete a fourth comeback of their own.

Harold Timberlake IV nailed both free throws to cut the lead to five, but miscommunication on the Vipers' press left Watkins wide open to beat it.

Another Jones layup made it a five-point game. But the Vipers missed Jamaal Torrence wide-open in the corner, and a big layup from Watkins extended the late lead to six, forcing Vance County to play the foul game the rest of the way. With the loss, Vance County dropped to 7-12 (1-9).