After rallying from double-digit deficits to win two of their last three playoff games, the Golden Tornadoes’ first regional trip in 19 years ended with a 68-41 thumping at the hands of Kinston, one of North Carolina’s top high school basketball programs.
“We played hard, but couldn’t get any shots to fall,” Fairmont coach Michael Baker said after his team made 16 of 59 shots. “At the guard position, I think we were 6-for-26. When you don’t see the ball go in the basket, it kind of hurts you on defense. I thought the kids played hard.”
Seeking its ninth state title, Kinston (27-2) will be making its 19th appearance in the state final next week against Cuthbertson. Point guard Josh Dawson was named regional MVP after scoring 14 points and handing out five assists.
“We tried not to talk about going back a whole lot (to the title game), because I didn’t want that being the focal point,” said Kinston first-year coach Perry Tyndall. “It was a total team effort today and we’re really, really excited to be going back to Chapel Hill.”
The Golden Tornadoes (25-6) were plagued by execution at the offensive end, struggling to score after winning the first quarter, 14-13. Kinston took the lead for good on Denzel Keyes’ layup a few possessions into the second quarter and never looked back, utilizing production from the post to secure the paint.
Down double digits throughout the second half, Fairmont’s starters appeared sluggish down the stretch having exerted a ton of energy in Thursday’s 21-point rally against Northside. Loose balls that went the Golden Tornadoes’ way in that contest didn’t against Kinston and open looks from the outside glanced off the rim.
“That was an emotional win,” Baker said. “I don’t know how much gas we had left in the tank, but I think they gave it all they had. I don’t think we left anything out there on the floor. We just got beat by a better club.”
Kinston opened the second half on a 7-0 run fueled by consecutive jumpers from four-star sophomore Brandon Ingram. The spurt pushed Kinston’s lead to 41-23 — its largest of the contest at that point.
Fairmont trimmed it to 14, but Dawson countered with back-t0-back layups in the heart of Fairmont’s post and ended the momentum shift. The Golden Tornadoes missed 18 shots in the second half attempting a comeback, most within 10 feet.
“We made shots (against Northside),” Baker said. “We got the ball where we wanted to (against Kinston), but shots didn’t fall.”
Fairmont connected on three 3-pointers and held its own on the glass against Kinston’s bigs in the first quarter. Jarrod Neal’s long-range jumper from the top of the key with two seconds left gave the Golden Tornadoes a one-point lead and energized the majority of a near capacity crowd at the Crown Arena.
“There wasn’t a difference (in size), we just tried to take it to them,” Townsend said.
Fairmont’s inside-outside approach worked for eight minutes then backfired the rest of the way after the Golden Tornadoes missed their final 15 shots from beyond the arc. Kinston limited Fairmont to just nine points in the second quarter and using a 14-point half from Denzel Keyes, led by 11 at intermission.
“We’re battle-tested and we’ve been in a lot of games that have different storylines,” Tyndall said. “These guys don’t panic and they trust each other. It helps when you have balance and when you believe in each other, anything is possible.”
Townsend and Luke Hunt, two of five Fairmont seniors that watched the final four minutes of their careers from the bench, played in foul trouble most of the second half and struggled getting position against the 6-foot-7 Ingram and 6-foot-5 Keyes. Townsend was Fairmont’s only player in double figures with 10 points and was named to the All-Regional team along with Kwinton Hinson.
“Luke and Chault both had great careers,” Baker said, recalling the program’s three conference titles and multiple playoff wins. “Chault played four years (of) varsity. I think he’s been the face of Fairmont for four years.”