Travis Pait’s West Bladen Knights did what they needed to do to cut down the nets, going through Purnell Swett, St. Pauls and Lumberton over a four-day stretch for the program’s first-ever title. Lumberton kept things close in the early going before everything West Bladen tried in the second half seemed to work.
The Knights’ execution down the stretch, especially in the fourth quarter, was a near flawless effort. Lumberton isn’t the only team with problems on the defensive end this season. Add Fairmont to that list. And St. Pauls, a team with much talent, has gone through stretches of ineptitude on offense.
“We get out of what we’re trying to do and freelance too much,” head coach Travis Lemanski said after Saturday’s win over Dillon, S.C. “Sometimes, we can look pretty ugly out there.”
That’s been the case throughout this fall for Robeson County hoops. Hopefully improvement continues at each program as the season progresses. Based on a variety of factors, including strength of schedule correlating to classification, overall talent and head-to-head eye tests, here is how staff writer Brad Crawford ranks Robeson County’s six prep boys basketball teams after last week’s Shootout.
Comments are welcome.
6. South Robeson (0-8): The Mustangs might be winless, but they haven’t quit under Bryan Grice. In fact, South Robeson nearly upset Fairmont last week in Rowland. Led by Reggie Scippio, the Mustangs played perhaps their best game of the season prior to the Shootout with a high-intensity effort against the Golden Tornadoes. Better execution in the final two minutes would’ve equaled a victory. That first win should come soon, possibly on Jan. 18 against West Columbus.
5. Red Springs (1-8): When the Red Devils find a point guard, coach Glenn Patterson says his team will be prepared for a challenging Three Rivers Conference slate. But that will be easier said than done with a roster that’s heavy on wing and post players and thin on ball-handling guards. CJ McGeachey, Jameson Baker and Zach Leach have each tried their hand at running the show, but it hasn’t worked out. A preseason injury to JuJu Brown has left Red Springs in a bind on offense and it’s uncertain whether or not the Red Devils can recover. Corey Okonkwo has came on strong as a senior with a solid post presence but the lack of outside shooting and turnover problems from others has led to eight losses.
4. Purnell Swett (2-7): Are the Rams beginning to turn it around this season? More impressive than Swett’s losers bracket victory at Red Springs last week was the Rams’ loss to Fairmont. During that game, Swett matched the Golden Tornadoes basket-for-basket during the first three quarters in one of Saturday’s most exciting games. During that 68-55 loss, Tyler Maynor scored a career-high 17 points and knocked down four 3-pointers on the goals he used to shoot on as a youngster as the ball boy for the UNCP men’s basketball team. Mitchell Hill has risen his level of play in his final season, blossoming into one of the area’s scrappiest frontcourt players. He’s a high-energy guy and crashes the boards every possession.
3. Lumberton (3-6): The Pirates are very good at home, but haven’t proved much on the road thus far. Lumberton missed out on a rematch with Fairmont in the Shootout after the Golden Tornadoes were upset in the opening round then squandered a grand opportunity in the championship Saturday night with a loss to West Bladen at UNCP. The Pirates’ marquee win was a one-point decision over Dillon, S.C. and they’ve been battled-tested more than any squad in the area. We’ll have to wait and see if those early losses benefit Lumberton when Southeastern Conference play begins next month.
2. St. Pauls (5-4): The Bulldogs lost to Lumberton by three points on Dec. 5, but have appeared to be the more consistent team at the defensive end throughout this season. Four losses have come by an average of 7.3 points while the Pirates’ set of six — against noticeably tougher opponents — have been 20.8-point blowouts on average. The Bulldogs captured a third-place finish over the weekend, the best in Travis Lemanksi’s three Shootout appearances, and return to the floor two weeks from now against Lumberton at home. That Jan. 4 game against the Pirates will decide the No. 2 spot in the county and should be another exciting head-to-head matchup at the point guard position between Deion Gilchrist and Montrae Strother.
1. Fairmont (7-3): Junior guard Shemar Barfield said issues of inconsistency can be placed on defense. Head coach Michael Baker says he’ll be thankful when Fairmont is healthy again. There are a handful of reasons the Golden Tornadoes haven’t come out clicking on all cylinders thus far, but the good news is that there’s plenty of time to improve. Jarrod Neal is nursing a sore ankle he aggravated during football season while Luke Hunt hasn’t played at 100 percent with an injured knee. Big man Charlton Townsend has yet to dress and is expected to be back in uniform Jan. 8. Baker says his team has lacked its usual aggressive nature because of varying lineups. “We don’t have the personnel to play the way we want to play right now,” he said. We’ll have more on Fairmont’s injury misfortune in Thursday’s paper.