It just took the Golden Tornadoes a half of basketball to get back to the blue collar basics that’s indicative of a program amidst a 31-game Three Rivers Conference winning streak.
“These guys have a whole lot of pride,” Fairmont coach Michael Baker said. “We came through, but it was a heck of a battle.”
The Golden Tornadoes used a 10-0 run midway through the fourth quarter to avoid an upset, holding off the Bulldogs 69-62 in what St. Pauls coach Travis Lemanski dubbed his team’s biggest game in three seasons.
It was only Fairmont’s third single-digit conference victory over its last 32 wins.
“The guys are disappointed, but we played about as good as we could play them,” Lemanski said. “I told my guys they were a second half team and I knew that run was coming. They really tried to knock us out in the third quarter and we started pressing a bit.”
After trailing by as many as eight during a high-energy second quarter, Fairmont (15-3, 4-0) opened the second half on an 8-0 run to regain the lead and held it until Deion Gilchrist’s jumper with 4:43 to play put the Bulldogs ahead by a point.
Over the next two minutes, Fairmont’s Charlton Townsend led a 10-point charge with consecutive layups and a nifty assist to Kwinton Hinson that put the Golden Tornadoes in front, 62-53. St. Pauls (11-6, 3-1) managed to cut the deficit to four on Malik Livingston’s step-back 3-pointer with 52 seconds left before Jackie Oxendine drained 3-of-4 free throws down the stretch to seal the victory and snap the Bulldogs’ six-game winning streak.
Oxendine was one of three Fairmont starters in double figures and scored a team-high 16 points.
“We took too many shots outside of our offense in the first half and fell behind,” Baker said. “I told the guys to get back to the inside-outside game and start looking for Kwinton and Charlton. Jackie was able to knock down a couple shots that helped and Kevin (Frierson) did too.”
Lemanski’s game plan for the upset seemed to be working early as St. Pauls backed into a zone defense and attacked the paint at the other end of the floor. Fairmont missed several open shots that allowed the Bulldogs opportunities in transition after long rebounds.
Jaquell Johnson scored 12 of his 14 points in the opening half as St. Pauls used a late 9-0 spurt in the second quarter to lead by six at halftime, sending a shock wave through the Fairmont locker room and visiting crowd that made the cross-town trek.
“When your program has come up a lot since last season and plays with confidence, it’s a tough opponent,” Baker said. “St. Pauls played with more energy and more fight than us in the first half.”
Energized from a halftime pep talk, Fairmont scored on four straight possessions to begin the third to regain the lead. St. Pauls rallied, then forced Hinson to the bench with his fourth foul on a reach-in at the seven-minute mark. Robeson County’s leading scorer missed the remainder of the frame and was held well below his season average finishing with 12 points on 4-of-14 shooting.
“We did a great job rebounding for our size and got Hinson in foul trouble like we wanted,” Lemanski said. “Guys were ready to compete, we just couldn’t quite finish.”
The narrow win may have been something the Golden Tornadoes needed after a series of blowouts in conference play over the last three seasons.
“This is good for county basketball when you have two teams competing as hard they did tonight,” Baker said. “Those guys have really improved and you can see it with their style of play. They came at us hard and we had to scrap to win.”
Lady Bulldogs rally, fall short
Fairmont’s girls basketball team led St. Pauls by 17 points at halftime Tuesday night before holding off the Lady Bulldogs, 40-30, to remain one of the leading contenders in the Three Rivers Conference.
Na’Jewell Ingram’s coast-to-coast layup in the final minute of the second quarter helped the Lady Golden Tornadoes pull ahead 25-8 at intermission before Fairmont’s offense went stagnant in the second half.