The Gators snapped the Golden Tornadoes’ 37-game conference winning streak on Feb. 12 and it was more of the same in the rematch as East Columbus led by double digits most of the contest during a 58-53 win.
“We’re not mentally tough,” Fairmont coach Michael Baker said. “I guess our players think they can just turn it on when they want to, but we’re not good enough to do that. We were flat.”
The defeat ended Fairmont’s two-year reign at the top of the conference and was the program’s first home setback to a league opponent in nearly four seasons.
East Columbus built a 17-point lead in the second half before Fairmont pulled to within three points twice in the final 1:08 after 3-pointers from Kwinton Hinson and Jackie Oxendine. A late rally wasn’t enough to offset a nearly three-quarter lull offensively that deflated the home crowd.
Fairmont’s four-point first quarter was its lowest total in three years, not a good sign heading into the postseason as a high seed according to Baker.
“We couldn’t shoot, couldn’t score,” he said. “We had plenty of good looks at the basket, but couldn’t make a shot. That won’t cut it playing like that.”
Ronald Ratliff kept the Golden Tornadoes at bay throughout with jumper after jumper on his way to a game-high 29 points. Like the loss two weeks ago, East Columbus’ man-to-man defense frustrated Fairmont and limited its trio of guards — Jarrod Neal, Shemar Barfield and Jaquan McRae — to just eight total points.
Neal, a junior who was an all-county performer last season, picked up his fourth foul early in the third on a reach-in and sat the rest of the quarter. In limited minutes, Barfield never found a rhythm.
“We’re in trouble if our guards don’t play,” Baker said.
Down eight at intermission, Fairmont (22-5) fell behind by double digits early in the second half after the Gators started the third quarter on a 9-0 run. Ratliff’s fourth 3-pointer of the night forced Baker into an immediate timeout and a subsequent scolding along the home sideline.
Hinson pulled Fairmont within nine at the end of three with a jumper at the horn before the Golden Tornadoes made a furious rally that came up short down the stretch.