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FAIRMONT — It’s that time of year.
For the second straight season, perennial power Kinston stands in the way of Fairmont and the Golden Tornadoes’ quest for the program’s second state basketball championship.
Midway through the second quarter of Wednesday’s playoff win over Edenton Holmes, the Vikings became the topic of conversation throughout Fairmont’s gym as fans frantically checked mobile devices for updates on the Golden Tornadoes’ next opponent.
A familiar, dominant adversary.
“It’s been one game at a time since we saw the pairings because we didn’t want to look ahead,” Fairmont coach Michael Baker said. “We knew Kinston would come in here Friday night if both teams reached the third round. But (East Bladen) and Edenton were too good to overlook.
“But we’re here now.”
Baker said his team spent all of Thursday’s practice dissecting a way to eliminate Brandon Ingram, Kinston’s star junior who has already garnered offers from North Carolina, N.C. State and Clemson among others.
Ingram’s a 6-foot-7, 175-pound dribble-drive forward with a five-star rating as the state’s top player in his class according to recruiting service 247Sports. He’s not Kinston’s only scoring threat however on a team that’s won 22 games this season.
Junior guard Mykel Hart poured in a team-high 20 in a second-round win over Red Springs after the Vikings jumped out to a 26-point lead at halftime. Hart’s a relentless attacker and is three inches taller than any of Fairmont’s starting guards — Jarrod Neal, Shemar Barfield and Malik Milton.
Kinston’s strength is on the glass, a team that’s rarely out-rebounded thanks to its athleticism in the frontcourt, an element Baker hopes to contain.
“If we crash the boards the way we did Wednesday night and get after it down there, we’re going to give ourselves a chance,” Baker said. “Guys like Anthony (Watson) and Alshaquan (Williams) are going to have to play well. We know they can.”
Fairmont’s 54-4 at home since 2010 and hasn’t lost this season. The Golden Tornadoes began selling tickets to the game Thursday and any overflow crowd will be encouraged to watch a live stream in the lobby on flat screens.
“It should be a neat environment with a lot of fans,” Baker said. “We’ll know when the ballgame’s over whether or not we had a home-court advantage.”
FRIDAY’S STARTING LINEUPS
G Andrew Lopez, Sr., 11.4 PPG
G Mykel Hart, Jr., 8.8
F Tiquan Canady, Sr., 4.9
F Brandon Ingram, Jr., 20.0
F Darnell Dunn, Jr., 10.1
G Jarrod Neal, Sr., 10.6
G Shemar Barfield, Sr., 10.1
G Malik Milton, Sr., 9.4
F Alshaquan Williams, Soph., 9.1
F Anthony Watson, Sr., 6.1
Reach Brad Crawford at 910-272-6111 or on Twitter @MrPalmettoSDS.