By Duane Cochran
Times West Virginian
Here’s hoping a new season, a new team and a new coaching staff will produce different results in Charleston this year for Fairmont State University’s men’s basketball program at the annual West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Basketball Tournament.
The second-seeded Falcons, who opened play in the tourney Tuesday evening at home at the Joe Retton Arena with a 96-85 victory over Ohio Valley University, will take part in quarterfinal-round action today at 3 p.m. against seventh-seeded Seton Hill University at the Charleston Civic Center.
Fairmont, a team that once dominated the WVIAC Tournament, hasn’t advanced past the quarterfinals in league tournament since 2001 — 12 years ago. Since 2002, the Falcons have made seven appearances in the quarterfinals and are 0-7 during that span.
But that was then and this is now and Fairmont, which hasn’t been a second-seed in the conference tourney since 2000, is anxious to change its fortunes.
“We’ve got to try to keep this thing going in Charleston,” said first-year FSU head coach Jerrod Calhoun. “We’re excited to be here. I think it’s going to be a great atmosphere and I think a lot of our fans are going to make the trip down. Hopefully, we’ll have a good performance.”
Fairmont enters today’s contest 20-7 overall. Under Calhoun’s guidance the Falcons recorded the biggest turnaround in school history by posting 12 more victories than they did last season.
Seton Hill reversed its fortunes this season as well. The Griffins finished 11-16 last year, but this season bring a 16-11 mark into today’s game with FSU. Seton Hill also enters the quarterfinals having won five in a row, including a 76-73 victory over Fairmont State just one week ago. The Griffins advanced to today’s contest by virtue of a 66-63 win over 10th-seeded West Virginia Wesleyan on Tuesday night.
“Seton Hill is a very, very good defensive team,” said Calhoun, whose Falcons won the first meeting with the Griffins back on Jan. 7 in Fairmont, 69-53. “I’ve known coach (Tony) Morocco for some time and he really does a good job of getting his guys to guard.
“A key against them is to get out in transition and get easy baskets. We didn’t do that last week up there against them. We did it in our first game against them. It’s going to be a tough game. All of the games in Charleston are going to be tough. Everybody is unbeaten now and playing for the same thing.”
The Griffins are allowing just 66.2 points per contest, which is tops in the WVIAC. Fairmont’s offense averages 83.4 points per outing, which ranks third in the conference.
“We need to play well from start to finish Thursday,” said FSU senior point guard Malik Stith, who scored 27 points in the last meeting with the Griffins. “That was the lesson we learned Monday against Ohio Valley. We came out sluggish and we can’t afford to do that. Seton Hill just beat us and they’re playing well right now. We’ve got to be ready to go from the outset. There’s a lot at stake in this one.”