Thursday night in the regional semifinal against top-seeded Northside, early issues with execution appeared again before the Golden Tornadoes pulled off a magical comeback that would’ve even left Houdini in awe.
Kwinton Hinson’s 3-pointer at the buzzer capped a 19-0 run to end the game as Fairmont rallied its way to the regional championship game with a 65-62 win over the Monarchs.
The Golden Tornadoes (25-5) trailed by as many as 21 points in the third quarter and 16 to start the fourth before furious defense and a handful of clutch shots from Shemar Barfield set up Hinson’s heroics.
“I didn’t even think about the shot not going in,” Hinson said. “It felt good as soon as I caught the pass.”
Fairmont outscored Northside 24-5 in the final frame. Next up for the Golden Tornadoes is a bout with defending champ Kinston Saturday at 4 p.m.
“We’ve been through this before, we just had to believe,” said junior guard Jarrod Neal. “It’s all about execution. The same thing happened against Whiteville and that’s what we were talking about at halftime.”
The pieced together floor at the Crown Arena began to shake after Luke Hunt’s layup with 1:45 left knotted the score at 62. After the teams traded empty possessions, Northside’s Jamal Parker tried dribbling out the clock for a final shot but was whistled for a five-second call against Fairmont’s JaQuan McRae.
With 8.1 seconds left and the ball, Fairmont coach Michael Baker called timeout to draw up a play for Hinson on the right wing.
“We put our best defensive player on Parker, because he was quick enough to stay on him,” Baker said. “We had a lot of confidence during that run and when we got the ball back, we felt pretty good where we were headed.”
McRae tossed the inbounds pass to Neal who knifed his way into the lane, drawing two defenders. With his back to the goal, Neal passed to Hinson for the 3. Hinson’s jumper sent the Fairmont faithful into a frenzy and followed with Hinson being mobbed by teammates at the other end of the floor.
In a second round playoff game, Fairmont overcame a 19-point halftime deficit, but Thursday’s victory was even better. The Golden Tornadoes are one win away from the state title game, but most go through perennial favorite Kinston to get there.
“We feel good about the situation we’re in,” McRae said. “They’re pretty big, but we just have to focus and box out. We don’t want to fall behind by 21 points again, but our team is confident.”
Northside (25-4) jumped out to a 37-19 halftime lead by 17 points from Parker. Fairmont started the third quarter on a 10-2 run highlighted by three dunks from Hinson that provided some momentum after a frustrating opening 16 minutes.
The deficit swelled to 21 again before the Golden Tornadoes turned up their defensive intensity and created points in transition. Barfield nailed a pull-up 3 with just under five minutes left that brought Fairmont within nine at 62-53. Barfield snared a rebound at the other end on Northside’s ensuing possession and drained another jumper from long distance the next time down to force a Monarchs timeout.
Fairmont missed 21-of-29 shots in the first half, but made 19-of-32 after intermission.
“We started playing with intensity and the fans got behind us,” Baker said. “This team showed a lot of character, a lot of heart to come back the way they did.”