The area’s two 4A schools had their most successful road trips in recent memory last week as Purnell Swett and Lumberton disposed of Pinecrest and Richmond. The Pirates’ upset victory came on the heels of a narrow loss to seventh-ranked Hoke that opened the eyes of Southeastern Conference fans. Fairmont continued its recent dominance against Red Springs with its fifth straight win over the Red Devils while South Robeson and St. Pauls both suffered conference setbacks.
County basketball is off until Friday for exams.
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6. South Robeson (1-12, 0-3): It was too little, too late for Devon Rowdy and South Robeson last week at West Columbus as the Vikings staved off 25 fourth-quarters points from the Mustangs to win, 69-58. West Columbus led throughout and was ahead by 18 entering the final frame — a positive sign for South Robeson considering the final outcome’s 11-point spread. The Mustangs didn’t quit on the road, but couldn’t overcome Cameron Brisbon’s triple-double of 12 points, 13 rebounds and 10 steals. In the early game, South Robeson’s girls team recorded their first win of the season.
5. Red Springs (1-12, 1-2): Red Springs is ranked ahead of the Mustangs because, at this point, the Red Devils would have the edge head-to-head. It wouldn’t be a high-scoring game, but Red Springs seems to be getting its act together in conference play sans the loss at Fairmont. We’ll get to see just how far both teams have come Friday when the Mustangs and Red Devils play in Rowland for the first of two this season. Two starters have entered double digits for their season scoring average, Quinn Lowery and Jameson Baker at 10.5 and 10.3 points per game, respectively.
4. St. Pauls (3-11, 2-1): The Bulldogs stay at No. 4 this week by default after suffering an embarrassing 20-point home loss to East Columbus. When teams ahead of you lose, a pair you’ve beaten, you don’t slide. St. Pauls didn’t show up the final three quarters against the Gators during what head coach Travis Lemanski called a “one-sided streetball” game. St. Pauls got away from what it does best and struggled against a faster, more hungry starting five. It got ugly in the second half after East Columbus had a player ejected and a Bulldog reserve was hit with a technical. With a week off to prepare for West Columbus (5-7, 2-1), Lemanski should have his team ready to play Friday night.
3. Purnell Swett (10-4, 2-1): Remember when someone said the Rams needed help for Juwan Jones to be considered a contender in the SEC? With Jones saddled with three early fouls last week at Pinecrest, that production came in the form of Mitchell Hill’s career-high 18-point effort during a 68-61 win over the Patriots. Head coach Jeremy Sampson said Hill, along with Michael Pipkin and Tyrell McDonald, were active on the defensive end and kept Pinecrest at bay with Jones on the bench. The victory was Swett’s sixth by single digits this season, a good sign with the conference tournament and highly-competitive games right around the corner. The Rams’ win total is the most since Thomas Umphrey led Swett to 14 victories during the 2005-06 season.
2. Lumberton (9-6, 2-1): A road victory over a ranked team — depending on which of the dozen polls you follow — goes a long way for the Pirates’ confidence, especially after dropping a heartbreaker two days prior in Raeford. Lumberton’s 23-point blowout in Rockingham last week was not only the Pirates’ best win of the season, it let the rest of the conference know Ted Gaskins’ squad might be this year’s darkhorse. With home games remaining against the two favorites, Hoke and Richmond, and a pair with county rival Purnell Swett, Lumberton’s success story is coming into focus. Christian McRae continues his all-star caliber season while Floyd Strother and Dorian Davis could play — and start — for any other squad in this region. A few more quality wins turns Lumberton into a force come postseason time.
1. Fairmont (10-4, 3-0): Until a worthy competitor knocks the Golden Tornadoes off their perch atop the Three Rivers Conference, here Fairmont stays at No. 1 in the Prep Elite Poll. Friday’s road trip to Lake Waccamaw could be Fairmont’s toughest battle yet if East Columbus plays the way it did in last week’s win at St. Pauls. Coach Curtis Moss said after the game it was best he’d seen his Gators play all season. T.J. Wilson is the conference’s best player, but the Golden Tornadoes have the league’s best team. Fairmont’s weakest link continues to be its free-throw shooting, a paltry 49 percent this season. It hasn’t hurt yet, but it could down the stretch.
Reach Staff writer Brad Crawford at 910-272-6119 or at email@example.com