FAIRMONT — Fairmont missed so many open shots in the first half, coach Michael Baker was getting frustrated.
After a quick pep talk from its coach, the Golden Tornadoes found the range in the second half and blistered Richmond Senior 74-55 Friday night to advance to the Robeson County Shootout championship game.
“We missed easy shots in the first quarter,” Baker said. “We missed point-blank shots, putbacks and layups. It was like we were anticipating them blocking the shot and not focusing on watching the ball through the basket. I told them to keep the eye on the ball until the ball went through.”
Both teams struggled to find the range in the first quarter, combining for 22 points, but hit the ground running in the second. The Golden Tornadoes scored 22 points in the frame and the Raiders netted 17. After connecting on the game’s first basket, Fairmont didn’t take the lead again until KaShawn Leonard swished a 3-point field goal with 27 seconds remaining in the first half.
Richmond coach David Laton said his team was fortunate to trail by just three points at halftime because he held out two starters for being late for the team bus earlier in the afternoon. After sinking back into a 2-3 zone in the first 16 minutes, Laton thought a switch to a man-to-man with Xavier Davis and Tre Pettigrew back in the lineup in the second half would give the Raiders an advantage.
The plan backfired on Laton as Fairmont exploded in the second half to outscore Richmond 42-26.
“We were able to spread the ball out when they went to man,” Baker said. “Their length was bothering us in the zone, when they went to man it opened the floor for us.”
Baker added he made a defensive adjust as well as halftime that confused the Raiders.
“We kept switching from man to our 1 defense, which is a match up but with man-to-man principles,” Baker said. “They were hitting the 3 in the first half because we were helping out on the inside. We would run man a couple of times down the court then switch to our 1.”
Fairmont has won six straight since losing its season-opener at Lumberton and will face the Pirates again in today’s title contest 8 p.m. today at the English E. Jones Center on the UNC Pembroke campus.. Lumberton edged Dillon in the other semifinal game 85-82 in double overtime. The Raiders and the Wildcats will square off for third-place at 4 p.m.
— Sports editor Shawn Stinson can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 14, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @scgolfer.