MALIK ON THE MOVE. Franklinton's Malik Jones drives past a Fike defender during Monday's opening-round action of the Big East Conference Boys Basketball Tournament at FHS. (Times photos by Geoff Neville)
FRANKLINTON -- After back-to-back subpar seasons at the bottom of the Big East Conference standings, the Franklinton High School boys basketball program made significant strides this winter under Coach Darrin Stinson.
FHS won eight total games and went 5-5 in the Big East, securing victories over the likes of long-time powerhouses Northern Nash and Wilson Hunt along the way.
The Red Rams proved that they could compete with literally anyone in the league -- a fact that was on display as FHS defeated regular season champ Hunt and tied for runner-up Northern.
Northern tied for second with Rocky Mount, a club the Red Rams led by double digits before suffering a final-minute, one-point loss a few weeks ago.
Franklinton was hoping to cap off its strong campaign with at least one victory at the Big East Conference Tournament, but it wasn't meant to be.
FHS had defeated Wilson Fike twice during the regular season, but the Golden Demons proved Monday the true balance of the conference by visiting the Franklinton HS Gymnasium and leaving with a 61-46 triumph.
The Red Rams fell behind by as many as nine points in the first half, only to rally to within 23-22 at intermission.
But Fike was simply determined on this night, and the Golden Demons opened the third stanza with an 8-0 run that featured treys from Mason Lee and Trevon Atkinson.
Already ahead 36-25, Fike didn't let off the gas to begin the fourth quarter. Instead, the Demons pushed forward with a 7-2 surge as Franklinton couldn't buy a basket, especially from beyond the 3-point arc.
To their credit, the Red Rams didn't quit and got as close as 54-45 off a Will Toman trifecta with 1:20 remaining.
But Lee, who paced the Golden Demons with 20 points, delivered seven free throws over the final 1:16 to put an end to Franklinton's season.
Lee also came through with five rebounds and four steals, and a quartet of Fike players reached double figures in scoring as part of a balanced offensive attack.
Khouri Carvey offered a double-double of 10 points and 10 boards for Fike, which went on to play ultimate rival Hunt in Wednesday's second round.
In girls action, Franklinton advanced with a 35-27 victory over Southern Nash in the Big East Conference opener Monday at the FHS Gymnasium.
The game allowed the Lady Rams a quick opportunity to avenge last Friday's heartbreaking regular season setback at Southern.
Franklinton played top-seeded Rocky Mount in Wednesday's semifinals, with the championship slated for today at 5 p.m.