CLINTON — Seven high school careers came to an end when the Fairmont boys basketball lost 80-56 to Clinton in the regional semifinals of the NCHSAA 2A state playoffs on Tuesday night.
It was a somber outcome for the Golden Tornadoes, but the players took solace in one word that reminded them how they got so far in the first place: Family.
“I love my boys,” senior guard Derrick Arnette said. “They’re my family. It’s not about just winning a game. It’s about family.”
The Golden Tornadoes struggled to execute on both ends of the floor throughout the game, turning the ball over 27 times and being outrebounded 54-32.
“They outrebounded us bad,” Fairmont head coach Montrell McNair said. “We’ve got some work to do.”
Clinton’s Dewan Lesesne and Kris Williams seemed to inflict their will on Fairmont’s defense at times, finishing with 22 points apiece.
“I’ve got to give it to them (Fairmont), they played hard, always have,” Clinton head coach Randy Jordan said. “I’ve got nothing but respect for that program, and their coaches and their players. They do a great job.
“What we wanted to do was spread them out, be able to what we call turn the corner, and attack the basket and get them in foul trouble early.
Jordan said he installed a new press formation into the team’s gameplan on Monday with the intent of making the Tornadoes play too aggressively.
That last-minute change ended up working, but Jordan said that approach wouldn’t work every time.
“We could play them 10 times and it would be 5-5,” Jordan said.
Clinton will take on Greene Central in the 2A East final on Saturday. Greene Central beat Farmville Central 67-54 on Tuesday.
Jayvon Morris paced the Golden Tornadoes with 12 points and six rebounds. Arnette added 11 points and six rebounds.
Clinton closed the first quarter with a 12-2 run to take a 22-10 lead, but Fairmont responded with an 11-2 run early in the second to close the deficit to five points.
With the help Kris and Kahari Williams, the Dark Horses rallied to push their lead to 43-31 at halftime.
Arnette, one of Fairmont’s driving forces defensively, picked up his fourth foul with just under five minutes left in the third quarter. His absence increased the Golden Tornadoes’ vulnerability and helped the Horses outscore the visitors 17-10 in the period behind seven points from Kris Williams.
Clinton took advantage of a fatigued Fairmont defense in the fourth quarter, scoring the first nine points of the period before Arnette responded with a 3-pointer.
With many of Clinton’s starters subbed out of the game, Fairmont rallied to score 10 of the game’s final 14 points.
“It hurts a lot,” senior guard Corry Addison said. “I feel like we improved as a team from the beginning of the season. We got tight as a family.”
Seniors Derrick and Malik Arnette, Sidney McKeithan, Jaquan Hinson, Addison, Brent McDonald and Nalijha Pittman all played their last game with the Golden Tornadoes.
“I’m not mad at myself,” Arnette said. “I know I went out there and gave everything I got. I know they’re going to go hard, so I’m going to go hard all game.”
McNair said he told the Golden Tornadoes to not hang their heads after the loss, and to remember how far they came as a team.
“We’re still a family,” McNair said. “No matter what happened tonight, we’re still a family.”
Highlights can be viewed here.
Reach Brandon Tester at 910-816-1989. Follow him on Twitter @Tester_Brandon.