FAIRMONT — Fairmont senior forward Sidney McKeithan knows his niche on his team, and it goes far beyond post play like grabbing rebounds or blocking shots.
“I bring just the energy and the hype,” the 6-foot senior said.
In a game dominated by guard play on Friday, McKeithan towered above the rest of the frontcourt players in the crucial moments of Fairmont’s semifinal game against Red Springs in the Robeson County Shootout. He finished with five of his nine points coming in the fourth quarter and pulled down big rebound after big rebound to help Fairmont top Red Springs, 67-55, and advance to the Shootout championship game for the third straight year.
“He brings a lot of energy and toughness,” Fairmont coach Montrell McNair said of McKeithan. “That energy, we need that on a consistent basis.”
In a rematch of last year’s title contest, Fairmont will play Lumberton in an 8 p.m. tipoff at UNCP.
Despite many players on his team having the experience of the quick one-day turnaround from the semifinals to the championship, McNair said that will be a challenge his team will have to overcome after topping their rivals.
“It’s so short-lived, I just mentioned it to the guys,” he said. “It’s so different that football. In basketball you don’t have a lot of time to prepare. It’s tough on them but we will adjust.
“They’ve been here before, most of them have, but it’s still going to be tough.”
Fairmont (8-1) entered the fourth quarter down 47-45, and McKeithan knew what he had to do when the message in the huddle was about giving effort and crashing the boards. To go along with his nine points, McKeithan also added nine rebounds.
“We had to come out and set the tempo, set a higher tempo, keep them off the boards and play our defense how we play it,” he said. “I felt I should be a leader and step up and set the tone and bring the energy.”
Behind the play of three seniors, McKeithan, Corry Addison and Derrick Arnette, Fairmont used a 13-4 run to start the final period and put some breathing room between themselves and Red Springs (8-2). The offense was there, but the fourth quarter was also when the Golden Tornadoes locked in on the defensive side, allowing 10 points and two made shots the final eight minutes.
“They can beat anybody like that,” said Red Springs coach Glenn Patterson, whose team dropped its 23rd straight contest in the series to Fairmont. “The good thing is we see them two more times and when it matters most and we will be better prepared.”
Red Springs plays Dillon in the third-place game at 4 p.m.
Coming out of a seven-point halftime hole to take a one-point lead in the first three minutes of the second half, the Red Devils found a groove that their guards Monte’ Wilkerson and Caleel Mitchell used to keep itself within striking distance of Fairmont for the entire third quarter and nearly half of the fourth quarter.
Then the costly mistakes started to mount. Both guards combined for 14 turnovers.
“We got to take better care of the basketball. I expected Monte’ and Caleel to step it up. They fumbled and made some crucial turnovers there down the stretch,” Patterson said. “We missed free throws and got the ball into Jerome (Bass) the way we wanted and he fumbled it.”
Wilkerson led all scorers with 20 points, while adding six rebounds, and Mitchell hit a trio of 3-pointers en route to finishing with 13 points.
Addison led Fairmont with a double-double of 14 points and 10 assists, and was saddled with foul trouble much of the contest. Picking up the slack was Malik Arnette, who had 13 point, and did what McNair expected him to do when his number was called.
“Malik plays solid every night whether he scores a lot or not,” McNair said. “When I need him to do something defensively, he will do it.”
Red Springs returns to Shootout championship
After having an underwhelming performance in its opening game of the Robeson County Shootout to Purnell Swett, the Red Springs girls basketball team used the energy around the rivalry against Fairmont as inspiration on Friday in the semifinals.
The result, a 49-41 win over Fairmont for the Lady Red Devils to secure their second straight berth to the Shootout championship and gets a rematch of last year’s final against Lumberton. The girls championship tips off at 6 p.m. at UNCP.
“They showed how mature and experienced we are,” Red Springs coach Steve Sinclair said. “When it gets down to the time when we need to make plays, we make plays that they need to make in order to win the games.”
Red Springs (9-2) entered the second half up by one, and despite changing the lead with Fairmont (4-4) on several occasions midway through the third period, took control early in the fourth quarter.
Taya Jones led Red Springs with 27 point and six assists, and Taylynn Atkinson returned from her one-game suspension and added seven points. Katelyn Culbreth added 10 rebound for the Lady Red Devils.
Kiara Page followed up her impressive outing against Lake View to score 21 points to lead Fairmont. Judaye Williams had 15 rebounds for the Lady Golden Tornadoes.
Fairmont takes on Dillon in the third-place game at 3 p.m.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.