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WILSON — Tuesday night’s 3-A Big East Conference varsity boys basketball opener between host Fike and Franklinton appeared destined to be decided by free throws.
Then, with less than three seconds before the final buzzer, it happened. The Red Rams converted near-disaster into the game-winning play and darted off with a 65-62 thriller against the Golden Demons.
In its 21st try, Franklinton celebrated its first Big East victory and departed 4-11 in all games.
“It won’t be their last one,” observed Fike head coach Brent Secrest. “Congratulations to them. Their record is not nearly representative of what they are. They rebound well and get into position well.’
Yet Fike, which trailed from the opening seconds until midway through the fourth quarter, clung to a 62-61 lead when the baffling turnaround occurred.
A pair of free throws from 6-foot-5 junior Khouri Carvey staked the Demons to their one-point lead with 13.9 seconds remaining.
In working for the go-ahead shot, the Red Rams nearly lost possession — thanks to pestering Fike defenders. But, scrambling on the floor, Franklinton’s Travon Jones managed to push the basketball to Dyron Burrell. Burrell spotted Robbie Burnett all alone under the basket. Burnett took the pass and banked in an uncontested shot from close range.
Two seconds remained when Fike committed a violation attempting to inbounds the ball. Jones was fouled with 1.5 seconds left and swished a pair of free throws for the final margin.
“If (sophomore) Kyshon (Atkinson) had been able to control the ball, we were going to call a time-out,” Secrest noted. “But their guy (Burrell) got a hold on it and happened to see the guy (Burnett) under the basket. I can’t fault the effort of our guys; you just throw up your hands to that. It was just a bad break.”
Thus, the Rams survived a 16-for-31 showing at the foul line, while Fike converted 13-of-20 free throws.
Jones fired in 20 points to emerge the only Franklinton scorer in double figures. Sediq Spencer and Will Toman each netted nine points and Burnett eight.
Sophomore guards Christan Battle and Atkinson triggered Fike with 20 and 16 points, respectively. Carvey stuffed in 19.
“This is the first one (conference win) for Franklinton in 3-A,” exclaimed second-year head coach Darrin Stinson. “It feels good. In earlier games, we made a lot of turnovers. Tonight, we played smarter basketball.
“Because of their small guards, we thought we could score. The only thing scaring me was their big guy (6-5 Carvey). Free throws are something we’ve got to get better at. We didn’t rebound well down the stretch.”
But the Rams ruled the backboards in the first half in shaking off Carvey’s game-opening basket and building leads of 7-2, 11-5 and 14-6. From a 14-8 margin after the opening quarter, Franklinton forged a 22-10 lead on Jones’ 3-pointer.
But Battle and Atkinson injected spark in the Demons, who cut the deficit to 30-25 at halftime on L.J. Batts’ inside move in the closing seconds.
The Demons never led in the third quarter but thrice tied the score at 31-31 on Atkinson’s bucket, 34-34 on Battle’s basket and 36-36 on another Atkinson field goal. The Rams clung to a 47-46 margin after three quarters.
The exchange of one-point leads marked the final quarter, with Fike seized a 54-52 advantage on Carvey’s mid-range jumper with 4:03 remaining.
Both teams were bothered by missed clutch free throws. Franklinton took one-point leads on a 3-pointer from Toman and a field goal from Burrell. But Fike answered with two free throws each from Battle, Carvey and Carvey again to go up 62-61 with 13.9 seconds showing.
“The pace was what we wanted it to be early,” Secrest explained. “We just didn’t come out with that pace. It really came down to our defense the first half. If we had played defense then like we did the second half, I think we’d had a decent lead. We are a one-half team right now.”
Secrest also noted foul-plagued 6-4 senior Moses Parker and senior starter Mason Lee combined for only two points.
“The sophomores really stepped up and put us on their backs,” Fike’s head coach credited. “I hope the seniors haven’t given up. We’ve got a long way to go.”
Including a conference test at home Friday against Southern Nash at 7:30 p.m. Franklinton will take on Rocky Mount at home Friday at 8 p.m.