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The Fike-Southern Nash matchup is the traditional opening act to 3-A Big East Conference varsity boys basketball action.
And more times than not, the Golden Demons and Firebirds wage contests that aren’t decided until the final few possessions.
After a first half Jan. 8 that played out as a plodding — but back-and-forth — affair, the script played out once more.
Senior Jaylen Ward hit two free throws with 1:25 remaining, and Vonte Thomas, an addition from the junior varsity squad, turned in several key fourth-quarter contributions to lift Fike to a 60-51 victory.
The result boosted the Demons to their 10th win against four losses, while Southern Nash dropped to 7-5. Southern, which made 13 3-pointers Jan. 4 in a non-conference win over West Johnston, couldn’t duplicate the feat in its Big East opener, making only two shots from beyond the arc.
“I told them in there, ‘I’m not going to lie to you, (Thomas) saved our butt tonight,’” Fike head coach Brent Secrest said. “He went in there and got a bunch of rebounds and made a couple big shots for us. I couldn’t be prouder of him — he stepped up.”
Thomas had five points, all in the fourth quarter. With Fike leading 57-51, his steal and subsequent pass ahead to senior Elijahwon Cooper boosted the lead to eight in the closing seconds.
Ward had 18 points to lead Fike, while junior Moses Parker had 14. Cooper tacked on 12.
The back-and-forth continued into the third quarter, with the teams locked in a 29-29 game. But Fike, which slowed the pace down in the first half, got going in its transition game to the tune of a 9-0 run. Trailing by two, Ward and Parker converted three-point plays, and a putback from Ward gave the Demons breathing room. Fike carried a 41-34 lead into the final quarter.
“Even if we’re playing a team that likes to run, if we’re not running, we’re not getting into the game it seems like,” Secrest said. “We’re stagnant and we don’t run our offense very well for whatever reason. We’re better off on the move.”
Fike built its lead to 11 in the fourth quarter on a Thomas putback, but behind senior Darius Edmundson, the Firebirds closed to within 54-51 with 1:37 to go. Edmundson had 10 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter.
Trailing by three, Southern Nash turned Fike over on the baseline, but before it could get into its offense, the Firebirds were whistled for a travel with 94 seconds to go. Further plaguing Southern Nash were a 15-percent showing from 3-point territory and just a 6-for-16 effort from the foul line.
“We just didn’t play really well,” Southern Nash head coach Robbie Kennedy said. “We shot the ball really, really bad. I think we got six points from three of our starters. We’ve just got to play better. I thought we played good in spurts, but (Cooper) really hurt us off the dribble.”