LAKE WACCAMAW — A defensive back on the gridiron, Kashawn Leonard doesn’t shy away from contact and made his presence felt early during Monday’s 89-60 victory at East Columbus.
Fairmont’s 5-foot-11 senior banged bodies in the paint throughout despite his compact frame on his way to a career-high 25 points and nine rebounds as the Golden Tornadoes moved within one win of another Three Rivers Conference boys basketball championship.
“My team motivated me to step it up,” Leonard said. “I played my role on defense and that led to a lot of points.”
Fourteen of Leonard’s total came at the free-throw line thanks to his willingness to go up and over Gator forwards Elijah Gresham and Marquese King — starters with at least five inches on Fairmont’s high-energy guard off the bench. He helped the Golden Tornadoes (16-5, 11-1) erupt for 31 second-quarter points and led a transition charge alongside with Malik Milton.
Milton finished with 19 points, five rebounds and three assists during Fairmont’s first game back since a three-point loss to Whiteville on Feb. 7.
“Kashawn and Malik both attacked tonight and that’s all we ask of those guys,” Fairmont coach Michael Baker said. “When they can get to the basket, they’re two good players. During the last two games, Kashawn has really seen a boost of confidence.”
Signs of rust following the snow-induced layoff were a no-show for the league’s highest-scoring team.
Constant traps and frantic play at the defensive end led to numerous fast-break buckets and opportunities at the line. Without a true point guard, the Gators (8-11, 6-6) stumbled under pressure and turned it over 22 times — eight on inbounds plays.
Nursing a 25-15 lead, Fairmont’s largest run came midway through the second quarter after two baseline jumpers from Milton followed by a 3-pointer and a pair of free throws from Leonard immobilized East Columbus’ front line. Gresham and King still managed to combine for 30 points and 19 rebounds but most of that total came with the contest out of reach.
By the 3-minute mark of the third quarter, Fairmont began looking ahead to Wednesday’s bout with South Columbus. Should the Golden Tornadoes beat the Stallions, they’ll clinch the conference’s No. 1 playoff seed and a regular-season title.
Friday’s matchup against South Robeson — with no playoff bearing should the Golden Tornadoes win their the next time out — acts as a postseason tune-up game without a conference tournament.
“Winning starts with defense,” Leonard said. “We just have to keep doing what we do.”
Jarrod Neal overcame an uncharacteristic six-turnover effort with four steals and six assists. Fellow former all-county guard Shemar Barfield scored 11 points and hits 4-of-7 shots he attempted. Fairmont sophomore Alshaquan Williams, who’s still progressing as a post threat, finished with 12.
In the girls game, East Columbus handed the Lady Golden Tornadoes with ease, 55-27.
Reach Brad Crawford at 910-272-6111 or on Twitter @MrPalmettoSDS.
Fairmont 89, East Columbus 60
Fairmont18 31 29 11 — 89
East Columbus 13 16 12 19 — 60
FAIRMONT — Kashawn Leonard 25, Malik Milton 19, Alshaquan Williams 12, Shemar Barfield 11, Hines 7, McQueen 5, Neal 4, Fields 3, Lambert 2, Ransom 1.
EAST COLUMBUS — Marques King 17, Elijah Gresham 13, T. Baldwin 7, Q. Baldwin 5, Phillips 4, Freeman 4, Wike 3, Dixon 2, Graham 2, Chestnutt 2, Jacobs 1.
3-Point Goals — FMT: Milton 2, Fields, Barfield, Leonard. EC: Freeman, Wike.
Technicals — EC bench.
Records — East Columbus 8-11, 6-6; Fairmont 16-5, 11-1.