The Fairmont High School boys basketball team looked like the Golden Tornadoes of old in Friday’s 2A Mideast sectional final against Clinton, a squad on a mission and hungry for a title.
And this time, they’ll have a chance to get it.
Fairmont’s senior class, a unique group that has suffered through a series of tough postseason losses the last three seasons, has reached the Class 2A Eastern Regional in Fayetteville, upending Clinton, 83-55, in their most impressive victory of the season.
The Golden Tornadoes will play top-seeded Northside on Thursday at 8:30 p.m. inside the Crown Arena.
“It was go hard or go home and we weren’t ready to go home,” said Charlton Townsend, a senior big man who scored seven points and pulled down a team-high eight rebounds. “We knew we had to come out and play Fairmont basketball. Home or away, we didn’t care who we played and didn’t worry about the opponent.”
Fairmont (24-5), Robeson County’s most successful program since 2010 with three conference championships and a Shootout title, put it into overdrive early against the Dark Horses and never looked back.
“We stepped up on defense because we knew we had to,” said Jackie Oxendine, a senior guard who had three steals and hit a 3-pointer in the second quarter to put his team ahead by double digits. “Defense won us the game.”
Fairmont led by a healthy margin throughout the second half spearheaded by consecutive runs in the third quarter after Clinton pulled to within 10 at one point. Kwinton Hinson’s one-handed slam over a defender early in the fourth sent the capacity crowd into a frenzy, raising the toasty gym’s internal volume to another decibel.
Clinton (21-8) never recovered.
“It’s all about hard work,” Fairmont senior forward Luke Hunt said. “We had to get this win for Fairmont.”
The Golden Tornadoes were down four points in the opening minute then never trailed again, jumping out to a 38-22 lead at intermission behind physical play inside from Townsend and Hunt and feisty defense from JaQuan McRae and Shemar Barfield. Hinson was forced to sit after being tagged with his third foul with 5:29 left in the second quarter, but watched his teammates end the first half on a 10-2 run.
It was a far cry from the lackluster performance in the opening half of Wednesday’s second-round win over Whiteville. In that game, the Golden Tornadoes erased a 19-point deficit at intermission to move on.
“That was a scare for all of us,” Fairmont coach Michael Baker said. “I asked the seniors how they wanted to be remembered and they responded. What the fans saw tonight was a team effort and the guys came out focused.”
Fairmont’s energy was high throughout the contest as the Golden Tornadoes forced a number of turnovers and fastbreak opportunities. Despite having a disadvantage in overall height, the Golden Tornadoes out-rebounded the Dark Horses 40-28 and held highly-touted junior Thaxter Spruill to a single point.
Hunt finished with a season-high 20 points in his final home game.
“We’re coming off our best couple of practices of the season, maybe a few seasons,” Baker said. “Luke and Chaut played great inside. Jaquan was great defensively. All of our role players stepped up.
“The reward for these guys is a trip to regionals.”