FAIRMONT — There haven’t been cases where the Fairmont boys basketball team has been in close, late-game situations this season, but it has what it takes to finish the job when the time comes.
In Friday’s 84-75 win over St. Pauls in an intra-county Three Rivers Conference matchup, the Golden Tornadoes took the best shots from the Bulldogs throughout the second half. Inside the final four minutes of the game was when Fairmont delivered the finishing blow needed to fend off St. Pauls and stay tied atop the conference standings with Red Springs.
“It jut shows you the toughness and the heart these guys have and their willingness to win,” Fairmont coach Montrell McNair said. “Any other team, the way St. Pauls fought tonight, they would’ve gave up. They didn’t give up.
“They kept hitting us in the mouth and making plays, and we just kept fighting. That’s that killer instinct to win the game.”
Seniors Derrick Arnette and Corry Addison were hit with foul trouble in the first half, each picking up three before halftime, but their experience shined through with their play late. Arnette scored six of his 12 points in the final period, and Addison hit two free throws and directed the fast break when the Golden Tornadoes started to open up the game on an 11-2 run that put Fairmont up 76-67 with less than three minutes left.
“Those senior guards stepped in and did what they were supposed to do,” McNair said. “Offensively and defensively they had to, even though they had foul trouble. They still knew how to play defense without fouling.”
St. Pauls (9-8, 7-4 TRC) hung tight with Fairmont (15-1, 9-1 TRC) after falling down double digits in the first half thanks to foul trouble from the Golden Tornadoes guards, and then in the second half with its own backcourt.
Entering the second half down five points, the Bulldogs and guards Emonta Smith Aaron Revels combined for 11 points in the third quarter that ended with St. Pauls up 59-57. Revels had a team-high 23 points and Smith added 18 points.
“I felt like my guards really grew up tonight. I was really pleased with all of their effort,” St. Pauls coach Corey Thompson said. “They really grew up in a hostile situation in this environment. I told them the only way to go is up from here.”
With West Columbus falling on the road to South Columbus, Fairmont stays tied with Red Springs with one loss in conference play.
Leading the scoring for Fairmont was Jayvon Morris with 26 points, and a perfect 10-for-10 at the foul line. Morris has scored in double figures the last three games and is starting to emerge as a leading post presence for the Golden Tornadoes.
“I’m playing the best I can be and I’m trying to help my team out on defense,” Morris said. “I’m just trying to play my role and play defense.”
Sidney McKeithan also chipped in 13 points and 11 rebounds in the win.
Fairmont plays at Whiteville and St. Pauls host South Columbus on Tuesday.
Eichelberger lifts St. Pauls girls late
After seeing Red Springs’ Taya Jones take the game over against his own team late on Monday, St. Pauls girls basketball coach Mike Moses wanted his team’s leader to take over in the clutch when the team needs it.
On Friday at Fairmont, freshman T.J. Eichelberger came on late to guide the Lady Bulldogs to a 45-41 win to shake up the middle of the Three Rivers Conference standings.
With the game tied at 40-all in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, Eichelberger drove the lane and hit a contested shot, and followed up with a steal and score to put the game in St. Pauls’ hands.
“I’ve been telling them that we have been 50 seconds away each night from a big win,” Moses said. “I told her that just Monday Taya Jones took the ball at the end of the game to win it and I told her it was her time to step up and shine.”
Fairmont (7-9, 5-5 TRC) struggled to rebound after a tough first quarter when leading scorer and rebounder Kiara Page went out with two fouls. St. Pauls (8-9, 6-5 TRC) led 8-4 after the first period, and held onto an 18-16 lead at the half.
Page finished with 26 points and 21 rebounds for Fairmont.
St. Pauls’ Eichelberger scored 11 of her 20 points in the final period and Diamond Simms-Moore added six points and 12 rebounds.