ELIZABETHTOWN — While the Fairmont boys basketball team is well known for its in-you-face defense that rarely backs away, second-half runs and changes are something the Golden Tornadoes do well also.
On Wednesday night in the Three Rivers Conference tournament semifinals at East Bladen, another offensive explosion occurred for the top seed in the tournament as Fairmont topped St. Pauls 86-62 to secure a berth in the tournament championship game.
Fairmont (25-1) plays either Red Springs or West Columbus, who meets in the other boys semifinal tonight, in the boys championship game at East Bladen on Friday.
To get there, the Golden Tornadoes had to respond after halftime to shake off a pesky St. Pauls (14-12) team that hung around in the first half.
“I saw a lot from my seniors that stepped up with their defense,” Fairmont coach Montrell McNair said of the adjustments. “We came out a little more determined in the second half. One thing that helps is me getting them in the locker room to talk to them at halftime so we can make the proper adjustments. I think sometimes they need that halftime to get re-focused to what they are supposed to be doing.”
A 12-point lead at the break grew to 30 after the end of the third period behind a “re-focused” approach from Fairmont. The Golden Tornadoes posted 30 points in the third.
In the period, Derrick Arnette hit a pair of 3-pointers and Jaquan Hinson came off the bench to score seven points that helped take the lead out to 31 points in the closing minute of the quarter.
Jayvon Morris scored 12 points in the second half, and said the team benefits from halftime and the adjustments that McNair gives the team in the locker room to come out with a second wind and a sharper focus.
“It’s special. He’s a great coach and he knows what he’s talking about,” Morris said of McNair and his halftime talks. “He tells us that we need to keep it up and come out in the second half and play harder.”
Morris finished with 28 points going up against a St. Pauls front line that features 6-foot-7 center Sean McNeil Jr., and athletic wing Romeo Jordan. His secret to score among the height with his 6-foot-2 frame, his speed.
“I just tried to use my speed and run the floor well,” he said.
Fairmont also got post production from Nalijha Pittman with eight points.
“They did a good job of holding their own tonight,” McNair said. “Whether it was getting boards or running the floor or defending, he (Morris) did a good job of that, and Nalijha came in and gave us a little boost inside too.”
After hanging around in the first half, staying within 10 points for much of the first half thanks to the scoring of Aaron Revels and Emonta Smith, St. Pauls coach Corey Thompson saw hunger in the Fairmont defense in the final half.
“We just ran into a buzz saw,” he said. “They compete the whole time. It was non-stop. They were playing like they hadn’t won a game all year. That’s Fairmont for you.”
Romeo Jordan scored a team-best 17 points and Revels added 15 points for St. Pauls that turned the ball over 31 times. The Bulldogs now wait to see their state playoff position for next week when the brackets are released on Saturday.
Arnette had 12 points and Brent McDonald added 11 points for the Golden Tornadoes that gets a day to rest before the championship game.
“We need that rest because a lot of guys are beat up with injuries and we are trying to get our bodies in shape for the playoffs,” McNair said.
Lumberton girls head to Sandhills title game
LUMBERTON — Senior London Thompson helped guide the Lumberton girls basketball team to its third straight conference tournament championship game with a 75-36 win over Richmond at home on Wednesday.
Thompson scored 13 points and had 11 assists and 10 steals for the Lady Pirates that play at Pinecrest on Friday in the Sandhills Athletic Conference tournament title game at 7 p.m.
Madison Canady had 19 points and 11 rebounds, Alexandra Simpson had 16 points and 14 rebounds and Rachel O’Neil added 15 points coming off five 3-pointers for Lumberton.
Keionna Love scored 11 points for the Lady Raiders.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.