First Posted: 1/15/2009
FAIRMONT -- Basketball coaches always say beating a team three times in the same season is tough to do. That must make four next to impossible.
Following Tuesday night's battle, the Fair-mont boys basketball team would be apt to agree with that assessment.
After winning all three regular-season matchups with St. Pauls, Fairmont couldn't win the one that mattered most, dropping a heartbreaking 69-64 overtime thriller in the first round of the Tri-Six Con-ference tournament.
The win came as sweet revenge for the Bulldogs (9-14), who lost at Fairmont last Friday and trailed by as many as nine points in the fourth quarter Tuesday.
Keron Pearson was the offensive standout for St. Pauls, scoring 26 points and coming up big at the free-throw line in overtime.
St. Pauls rallied from a four-point defi-cit late in regulation to force overtime.
Andre Gaddy converted a free throw put Fairmont (11-10) ahead 57-53 with 37.3 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
Pearson then drove from the wing and put up a leaner that rattled in and cut the Bulldogs' deficit to two points.
J.J. Williams went to the line with a chance to seal the game for Fairmont but missed the front end of a one-and-one.
The Bulldogs rebounded and pushed the ball upcourt to Delane Harrell, who made a layup in traffic as time expired to force the extra period.
“We just couldn't close it out,” Fairmont coach Michael Baker said. “That's been our problem all year.
“We were up by nine points, and we just stopped playing.”
St. Pauls contributed to the Golden Tornadoes' fourth-quarter rollover by going to a pressure defense with six minutes left.
Trailing 50-41, the Bulldogs reeled off nine straight points to pull even at 50. St. Pauls benefited from three steals during the run, as well as a backcourt violation committed by Fairmont -- all the product of the trapping defense.
“We went to the trap out of necessity,” St. Pauls coach Harold Johnson said. “We ended up getting the ball back the first three times we trapped, so it ended up being real big for us.”
The frenetic pace of the final few minutes was unlike most of the first three quarters, which were played at a more deliberate clip.
According to Johnson, it was important for the Bulldogs to avoid turning the game into a track meet.
“They beat us the first three times with us trying to run the ball, so that wasn't successful,” he said. “We dictated the pace tonight, and we scored more than we did in any of the other games.”
The slower pace made the absence of Fairmont forward Will Hill even more glaring. Hill injured an ankle in Friday's win over St. Pauls and watched the game from the bench in street clothes.
Hill wasn't the only Fairmont player in pain.
Center Jamie Nealy played the entire game despite a sore left wrist. The 6-foot-2 senior, who finished with 22 points, almost was unstoppable in the first half.
“Jamie was out there shooting a lot of one-handers,” Baker said. “I just told him to keep playing hard because there's no tomorrow.”
The loss ended Fairmont's season. St. Pauls advances to today's second round of the tournament at Clinton against the top-seeded Dark Horses (18-4) at 7 p.m.