The Times West Virginian

February 16, 2014

Falcons knock off No. 3 West Liberty, 93-81: PHOTOS

By Duane Cochran
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — There was pandemonium Saturday afternoon at mid court at the Joe Retton Arena.

And with good reason.

Fairmont State’s men’s basketball team snapped a 14-game losing streak to No. 3 West Liberty here yesterday by knocking off the regular-season Mountain East Conference champions, 93-81, igniting a celebration between FSU’s student section and the Falcons’ players which hasn’t been seen in several years.

It was FSU’s first victory over the Hilltoppers since Feb. 14 of 2008 when the Falcons won at West Liberty, 88-79. It was also Fairmont’s first home win over the ‘Toppers in nine years.

“There’s no doubt this one feels pretty good right now,” said FSU senior forward Brendan Cooper, who led the Falcons with 25 points and eight rebounds. “This is my last year. I’ve lost to these guys five times and I know the losing streak against them was a lot longer than that. We knew coming in we had to find a way to get it done against them and we did.”

The way was to slow down the nation’s top-scoring team by running the shot clock down, taking high percentage shots, defending and rebounding on both ends of the floor. It worked to perfection.

“Our guys were dialed in and ready to go,” said second-year Falcon coach Jerrod Calhoun, who defeated the Hilltoppers for the first time in six tries. “They really bought into our game plan and executed it. Our backs were against the wall. We had to win. It was win or go home and I think we have to win the next four to get into the NCAA Tournament.

“You’ve got give West Liberty credit. They’re the best in this league night in and night out. I’ve been on the other side five times with Jim (Crutchfield, West Liberty’s coach). He’s beaten me five times, so it’s good to get that monkey off of my back. He’s a very good coach with a terrific program and he’s built that over time. As for us, we’re a program on the rise.”

The Falcons, who had dropped two in a row coming into Saturday’s showdown with West Liberty, turned in arguably their best outing the season and it was spearheaded by a number of players including Cooper, Thomas Wimbush, Stevie Browning, Caleb Davis and Shammgod Wells.

“This win was a blessing for us,” said Wimbush, who finished with 24 points, 13 rebounds and had a number of key points late in the victory. “Coach told us in practice we had to understand the game plan, execute it and not turn the ball over which is something that had hurt us in our last two games.

“It was really important for us to keep our composure and play within ourselves and I think we did that.”

Fairmont’s harassing, aggressive defense turned the tables on the Hilltoppers, who normally force opponents to shoot poorly and turn the basketball over. Saturday West Liberty, which leads the MEC in both field goal percentage (50.1) and 3-point field goal percentage (42.2), shot a season-low 38.8 percent from the field and season-low 25.9 percent from behind the arc (7-of-27). The Hilltoppers, who made just three field goals in the first 11 minutes of the second half, also turned the ball over 16 times and got out-rebounded by FSU by 13.

“The bottom line in this one is Fairmont has a really good team and we just got beat,” said ‘Toppers’ coach Jim Crutchfield. “That’s what it came down to. Early on when the game was close or even when we were ahead I knew if we didn’t get them off of the boards we were going to pay the price and we did.

“Jerrod’s a smart guy and he was probably accurate when he said anyone who doesn’t play a zone against us is crazy. Well, sometimes I’m a little crazy. I just didn’t want to change everything that we do for this one game. The way we play opens the door for players like Fairmont has – guys like Wimbush and Cooper who can spread the floor and drive with it. What we do defensively doesn’t match up well with what they do offensively and it showed tonight. Fairmont has a lot of talent and they played with great intensity tonight.”

FSU, on the other hand, shot 49.2 percent from the field, including a hot 53.6 in the second half (15-of-28) when it extended its 41-36 halftime lead to as many as 15 at 69-54 with 6:25 remaining. The Falcons also only turned the ball over 14 times and went 28-of-39 at the foul line (71.8 percent), including an 11-of-16 showing in the last 2:33 to keep West Liberty at bay.

Besides Cooper and Wimbush’s big games, the Falcons, who improved to 16-8 overall and to 11-7 in the MEC, got 14 points and eight rebounds from Browning, 13 points and three steals from Wells and 12 points, six rebounds and three steals from Davis.

Shawn Dyer led West Liberty, which fell to 21-2 overall and to 17-2 in the league, with 26 points. He single-handedly kept the Hilltoppers close in the second half by scoring 11 straight points himself when his team was uncharacteristically struggling offensively in the first 10 minutes of the half. Cedric Harris finished with 14 points, but had just four in the final half. Kelvin Goodwin added 12 points for West Liberty and Keene Cockburn chipped in 11.

FSU will be idle now until Thursday when it visits Concord for a 7:30 p.m. contest in Athens.