COLLEGE PARK — Coming into their biggest game of the season on the hardwood of Xfinity Center, Kimani Benjamin and Fairmont Heights wanted to make this a playoff run to remember. A program rich with history and six state titles had not been to a state semifinal since 2006. Facing a Kent County team that went 17-0 in North Bayside conference play, there was no room for mistakes.
Despite turning the ball over 25 times as a team, Benjamin paved his way to 27 points to lead the Fairmont Heights Hornets to a 73-53 win over the No. 25 Kent County Trojans in the MPSSAA Class 1A state semifinals.
“My teammates, they did a good job finding me on the spots,” Benjamin said. “They gave me the ball and I was hot.”
Holding a 13-12 lead in the beginning of the first quarter, the Hornets were able to break away with an three-point play fron Benjamin. Tight defense and forced turnovers led the Hornets on 11-4 run to give them a seven-point lead at the end of the quarter.
Without their leading scorer and Sienna commit Manuel Camper, Kent County struggled to score. These struggles became especially noticeable in the second quarter. Fairmont Heights implemented a relentless fullcourt press that held the Trojans to only three points on 1-for-11 shooting in the second quarter. Kent County had no answer to the press and Fairmont Heights were able to double their lead to 32-16. A 3-pointer by Shemarri Miles gave Fairmont Heights a 24-point lead going into halftime.
“I didn’t give any answers in the huddle” Fairmont head coach Chuck Henry said. “That’s the one thing I love about this team; at times I don’t have to say anything.”
After a lopsided first half, the second half was much closer. Kent County, led by 25 points from Marquan Green, were able to outscore Fairmont Heights by four points in the second half, but the deficit was too much to make up. Benjamin converted a three-point play with just over a minute into the quarter to give the Hornets their largest lead of the game. Fairmont Heights slowed down the tempo in the halfcourt and used the size of junior Yerlando Reed to their advantage. The 6-foot-4 forward held a five-inch advantage over the tallest player on the court for Kent County. Reed had his way in the paint and finished with 13 points on 6-for-6 shooting.
“We don’t typically have a size advantage on anybody” Henry said. “We could probably pull a starting lineup out of Fairmont Heights that’d be bigger than what we had here.”
The height advantage helped the Hornets hold a consistent lead heading into the fourth quarter. Two early buckets by Kent County were canceled out by a three-point play from Benjamin. A breakaway dunk by Reed increased the lead to 19 and sealed the deal. With less than a minute to play and a 21-point lead, Henry began to pump up the Fairmont Heights crowd, knowing his team had secured the win.
The win propels Fairmont Heights into the Class 1A title game, where they will look to capture their first state title since 1981. They will come up against Edmondson-Westside, who won a close 59-52 semifinal game over Allegany.
“These guys played with a chip on their shoulder” Henry said. “We’ve got guys up here who want to put up championship banners so that’s really our focus.”