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Southwest Orange Monday, Feb. 22, 2021 6 days ago

Dr. Phillips and Olympia set to meet for the third and final time this season

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It's win or go home, as the rival Panthers and Titans look to clinch a spot in the Class 7A, Region 1 final.
by: Nate Marrero, Contributing Writer

Games don’t get more intense than the two matchups that have already taken place this season between the Dr. Phillips Panthers and Olympia Titans. 

In their first meeting at Olympia on Jan. 29, the Titans overcame a 13-point deficit in the third quarter to force overtime, but a 10-0 run by Dr. Phillips proved to be the difference as they won 51-43. 

The two teams met again at Olympia on Feb. 12 in the Class 7A, District 3 championship game. This time, the Panthers had to overcome a four-point deficit in the game’s final minute to force overtime. With 30 seconds left, Tyeree Bryan drained a three-pointer to put Olympia up 50-47. Six seconds later, Denzel Aberdeen made a three-pointer of his own and was fouled on the play. After making the free throw, Dr. Phillips went up 51-50 and went on to win the Class 7A, District 3 championship by that margin. 

The rivalry between the two programs reached a fever pitch in the late 2000’s when Anthony Long was leading Dr. Phillips to 20-win seasons on a yearly basis and Mark Griseck had built a program that was more than capable of winning a state championship at Olympia.

This season, both teams are once again two of the best in the state. 

In his first two seasons as Dr. Phillips head coach, Ben Witherspoon has led the Panthers (20-3), to back-to-back 20 win seasons and back-to-back district championships in the “district of death.” Meanwhile Olympia’s (21-6) rise to the top this season has been nothing short of dominant. In Rob Gordon’s fourth year as head coach of the Titans, they’ve won 18 of their 21 games by double-digits. 

Both teams turned in dominant performances in their Class 7A, Region 1 quarterfinal matchups on Feb. 18. The Titans went on the road and beat the University Cougars 70-42, while Dr. Phillips had to play the final three quarters of their 67-21 win over Oviedo at Olympia after Ernest Udeh Jr. shattered a backboard on a dunk attempt 23 seconds into the second quarter.

What adds even more fuel to the rivalry are previous verbal dustups between the two coaches, most recently after their Jan. 29 meeting, during which Gordon voiced his displeasure to Witherspoon after the game over a late dunk by Riley Kugel. 

There are also questions surrounding Udeh’s health. He was forced to leave the Panthers game against Oviedo to get stitches on his leg after glass from the backboard fell on him. In Dr. Phillips’ two games against Olympia, Udeh averaged 14.5 points. 

It’s impossible not to get excited for the upcoming game between Dr. Phillips and Olympia. The matchup pits two teams ranked in the top-five in the state in Class 7A against one another. It’s also the first game in the state playoffs between the Panthers and Titans since 2014, when Dr. Phillips beat Olympia 71-62 in the Class 8A regional quarterfinals. 

A win for Olympia would snap a nine-game losing streak against the Panthers that dates back to 2016 — and it would also mean their first regional final appearance since 2009. 

A win for Dr. Phillips would make the fourth-straight season they’ve swept their crosstown rival. They would also achieve the elusive feat of beating a great team three times in one season along with their first regional final appearance since 2011. 

The stakes don’t get higher for the third and final game of the season between Dr. Phillips and Olympia. On Feb. 23 it’s win or go home, and if it’s anything like the two previous games, you won’t want to miss it. 

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