BLADENBORO — In a sense, it was a bit of deja vu.
Much like last weekend’s county championship game loss to Lumberton, the Fairmont basketball team led the majority of Friday afternoon’s 69-66 loss to North Brunswick, only to struggle with late free throws and miss necessary shots in the closing minutes in the team’s first game since a short Christmas break.
“We’re a little sluggish. You’re always going to be a little sluggish (out of break) but still, you’ve got to have focus the entire game and we didn’t,” said Fairmont coach Michael Baker. “Free throws are a focus thing. If you don’t get those free throws, you’re not going to do anything.”
The free throws didn’t haunt Fairmont in the first half of its Woodmen of the World Christmas Tournament opener at West Bladen. The Golden Tornadoes started the game 3-for-4 from the line. It was the second half that hurt. Fairmont went 6-for-19 as a team from the line, with Jarrod Neal hitting three of four in the half as the only player in the to hit multiple shots from the charity stripe after the break.
It puts Fairmont in the consolation side of the bracket and sets up a matchup with Southern Lee at 2 p.m. today. The winner advances to the 5th place game at 4 p.m. on Monday.
The Tornadoes led 64-60 with 1:30 left, but allowed nine points in the final minute and a half. They still had a chance to send it to overtime, inbounding the ball with 7.9 seconds left, getting it to Shyheim Hines in the left corner, who missed the game-tying 3-pointer.
Though Fairmont put up a hefty amount of points and didn’t allow the Scorpions to take the lead until the second half, the Golden Tornadoes struggled at times.
“It’s not the way we wanted to play. The energy first half wasn’t there,” Baker said.
There were periods were the point guard would bring the ball up only to have it swiped away for a fastbreak score. Othertimes the larger Scorpions would use their size to wrangle the boards as Fairmont struggled to get in a shooting rhythm. Instead of getting consistent scoring, the Tornadoes would find quick rallies.
In the third quarter, Fairmont got only 11 points in the first six minutes, and fell behind, only to get consecutive 3-pointers from Malik Milton to end the quarter up 53-51.
“We played in spurts,” Baker said. “You can’t win games playing in spurts. You’ve got to win games playing the whole 32 minutes, that’s why it’s 32 minutes.”
Neal was Fairmont’s most consistent scorer, finishing with a team-high 19 points, including four 3-pointers. Shyheim Hines did what he could in the paint, scoring 14. Milton finished with 11, including three 3-pointers.
North Brunswick attacked Fairmont with a balanced inside game, taking advantage of numerous fastbreaks. Of the nine players that scored, six finished with eight or more points.
Josh White led the Scorpions with 14 points and Chris Graham had 13. J.J. Batts and Jabril Robinson each had 10.