FAIRMONT — All good things come to an end.
And for Fairmont’s boys basketball team, this year’s excursion ended earlier than it probably should have.
Two-time defending 2A state champion Kinston closed out the Golden Tornadoes’ season much like it did during the East Regional tournament last March, delivering a fine-tuned defensive performance during a 59-46 victory in Friday’s third round.
“We ran out plays correctly, we just didn’t see the ball go in the rim enough,” said Fairmont senior guard Malik Milton, who rubbed his eyes with his hand. “If we would’ve seen the ball go a couple more times in the rim maybe it would’ve been a different story.”
The loss was only Fairmont’s fifth at home since 2010, snapping a streak of 16 consecutive victories. It was a disappointing end to a campaign featuring another Three Rivers Conference championship and Robeson County’s most wins for the fifth straight season.
Replacing three starters off a 25-win squad that came within one win of a state title game berth in 2013 was a challenge for coach Michael Baker, one he used as motivation within the locker room. He has coached 30 years, won more than 400 games and compares this year’s team to some of his best.
“We had a good year and surprised everyone,” Baker said. “Nobody imagined we’d be here playing Kinston after losing Kwinton, Jackie and Charlton. Our kids worked hard all year long. We just fell short. We didn’t lose (to a better team). We lost to Kinston.”
The Golden Tornadoes led 26-19 with 3:18 left in the second quarter after a layup by Kashawn Leonard before the next seven minutes led to their demise. Halfcourt execution wasn’t there against Kinston’s taller front line and by the end of the third quarter, the Vikings held a commanding 10-point advantage.
Darnell Dunn, who led his team with 25 points and nine rebounds, made an uncontested layup as the first-half buzzer sounded that summed up Fairmont’s problems on defensive switches.
“We started taking bad shots (during that stretch) and that can’t happen,” Baker said. “We stopped them on initial shots and then the second-chance points killed us. As big as they are, when they get second shots, they’re going to put it in. We did well getting to the rim, but couldn’t finish.”
The Golden Tornadoes (20-6) didn’t get their usual plethora of points in transition and only forced five turnovers against Kinston’s (23-4) starting backcourt of Andrew Lopez and Tiquan Canady.
Highly-touted 2015 prospect Brandon Ingram recorded a double-double in last year’s win over Fairmont but was frustrated by constant pressure applied by Kashawn Leonard and Shemar Barfield this time around.
He came in averaging 20 points per game but finished with just 11 during the Vikings’ first true road playoff game since 2009. North Carolina coach Roy Williams and assistant Steve Robinson entered the gym before tip-off to a loud ovation and sat along the left baseline scouting Ingram.
It wasn’t the junior standout’s best game, but it was effective enough to push the Vikings back into the regional round.
“We did a good job on him I thought, we just couldn’t rebound,” Baker said.
Milton was Fairmont’s only player in double figures with 11 points. The Golden Tornadoes came into Friday’s game averaging just under 80 points per contest and was limited to their lowest total since March 2013 — also against Kinston.
“We started to lose our man (in the second half) and let them get to the rim,” Milton said. “We just lost our confidence after that.”
Reach Brad Crawford at 910-272-6111 or on Twitter @MrPalmettoSDS.
Kinston 59, Fairmont 46
Kinston 11 15 19 14 — 59
Fairmont 17 9 9 11 — 46
KINSTON — Darnell Dunn 25, Andrew Lopez 12, Brandon Ingram 11, Canady 4, Hart 4, Davis 3.
FAIRMONT — Malik Milton 11, Leonard 9, Neal 8, Barfield 5, Hines 5, Watson 4, Inman 4.
3-Point Goals — FMT: Milton 2, Hines, Barfield.
Records — Kinston 23-4; Fairmont 20-6.