By Duane Cochran
Times West Virginian
Fifth-seeded Fairmont State didn't waste any time Tuesday night punching its ticket for Charleston and earning a berth in the Mountain East Conference Women's Basketball Tournament quarterfinals Thursday at the Charleston Civic Center.
The Lady Falcons played arguably their best half of basketball of the season as they took it to 12th-seeded West Virginia Wesleyan right from the opening tip last night, built a 27-point halftime lead and cruised to an impressive 87-57 victory.
“The first half tonight was really good basketball on our part,” said FSU coach Steve McDonald. “Most teams in America do a three-on-two drill or a two-on-one drill and at times in the first half it looked like we were doing that drill. We got out and ran and shared the basketball extremely well.”
The victory improved FSU to 18-9 on the year and sets up a meeting with fourth-seeded West Virginia State University (18-10) Thursday evening at 8:15 p.m. in Charleston. The Lady Yellow Jackets won a pair of close games with Fairmont State during the regular season, including a 63-62 win on Jan. 30 in which State rallied from a six-point deficit in the game's final 34 seconds.
Fairmont's aggressive, unselfish and under control play highlighted a first half Tuesday night in which it shot 56.3 percent from the field (18-of-32) and handed out 12 assists on 18 field goals. The Lady Falcons also held Wesleyan to just 31.0 percent shooting from the field (9-of-29) in the opening 20 minutes, suffered just five turnovers themselves and recorded 10 steals on 12 Lady Bobcat miscues.
“I thought we shared the ball very well tonight, especially in the first half,” said FSU sophomore point guard Makenzie White, who finished with 13 points, nine assists and five steals. “One of our goals tonight was to have 20 assists as a team and we accomplished that.
“Tonight we were just looking to make one more pass. When you swing the ball someone is going to be open. Emily Puskarich hit some big threes for us, Hailey (Garrett) got some open layups and really everyone was involved and making shots for us.”
As noted, the result of Fairmont's solid play in the first half was a 48-21 lead at the break. In the second half FSU quickly extended its lead to 33 by the 16:25 mark before suffering a lull which allowed Wesleyan to battle back and make the contest at least a little interesting.
Led by junior forward Brittany Williams, who finished with a team-high 16 points and eight rebounds, the Lady Bobcats made a second-half run at FSU and closed the gap to 17 with 6:29 to play. Fairmont, though, re-grouped and led by Emily Lohr and Deidra Combs outscored Wesleyan 18-5 in the last 6:17 to win by 30.
“It's hard to stay mentally into the game when you're playing as well as we did early so we did suffer a little lull there in the second half,” said Lohr, who finished with 16 points, 13 of which came in the second half. “When that happened I just tried to pick us up by hitting a shot here or there or making the extra pass to get someone else an open shot.
“We were just really ready to play tonight. We were excited about the game. Everyone was talking about it all day and it translated into a pretty good all-around game for us on the floor.”
Hailey Garrett led FSU with 17 points and seven rebounds. She scored 15 of her points in the first half. The Lady Falcons also got 12 points from Puskarich, 11 from Hallie Gunnoe and nine from Combs, six of which came in the final 6:17.
For Wesleyan, which suffered its 22nd straight loss and ended the season with a 2-25 record, Courtney Small chipped in 14 points, 12 of which came off of four 3-pointers. The Lady Bobcats also got eight points from Allie Brown, all of which came in the second half.