By Duane Cochran
For the Times West Virginian
A 17-point second-half deficit proved to be just a bit too much for Fairmont State’s Lady Falcons to overcome here Saturday afternoon at the Joe Retton Arena.
Visiting West Virginia State built a 55-38 lead just over 26 minutes into the contest and then held off a furious FSU comeback bid to record a 78-75 win.
The victory improved the Lady Yellow Jackets to 6-2 overall and to 3-1 in the Mountain East Conference. Fairmont, meanwhile, fell to 4-3 overall and to 2-2 in the league.
Down by 17, Fairmont’s junior trio of Hallie Gunnoe, Emily Lohr and Hailey Garrett went to work whittling away at State’s lead. Together those three combined for 33 of FSU’s final 35 points and got the Lady Falcons within one point of the Lady Yellow Jackets three times in the game’s last 1:33.
After State’s India Taste canned a pair of free throws with 14 seconds left to make it 78-75, FSU had one more legitimate chance to tie the contest. The Lady Falcons ran a set play which got Gunnoe, who scored 14 of her game-high 22 points in the last 8:47, a good look at a three from the top of the key. Her shot, however, bounced off the rim and Taste cleared the rebound for the Lady Yellow Jackets and was fouled with just four seconds remaining.
Taste missed both free throws, and FSU’s Garrett got off a desperation shot from the other side of half court which was well short.
“The last play was a play we put together and executed well, but the shot just didn’t fall for me,” said Gunnoe, who had connected on a pair of big 3-pointers for FSU in the last 2:13. “It felt good leaving my hand, but unfortunately it just wasn’t there.
“We really just couldn’t get it together in the first half today. It just wasn’t clicking. We were down 17 at one point and it’s hard to keep your head up when that happens, but I’m proud of the way we did come together as a team, came back and didn’t quit. We just came up short.”
The contest was close for the first 12 minutes, but State closed the opening half on a 20-5 run to take a 42-31 lead at the break. In the second half the Yellow Jackets continued their dominance, outscoring FSU 13-7 to build their game-high 17-point advantage.
“We had our chances at the end,” said FSU coach Steve McDonald. “Two possessions before Hallie got a look at her three we had the ball, were down just one and turned it over.
“I told the kids at halftime we’ve been down before by 10, 11, 19, 22, 11 and have come back, and this game will be no different. We will come back. I didn’t think being down 11 at the half we’d let it extend out to 17, but nevertheless we did come back. The problem is moral victories aren’t something you really want. You can have a lot of moral victories in a season and win just six games. We’ve got to do a better job of being focused for a full, 40-minute period.”
Taste led State with 19 points, four of which came at the line in the final minute. The Lady Yellow Jackets also got 16 points from Lexy Carson, 15 from Shealyn Shafer and 12 from Asia Greenleaf.
“I thought West Virginia State played really well today and played with great emotion,” said McDonald. “I think Dave (Smith) is a really good coach. He came there from Bellarmine. They’ve always had athletes at State, but now they have athletes and they’re well-coached so they’re a difficult team to play against. I knew today was going to be difficult for us.”
Gunnoe was joined in double figures for FSU by Lohr, who finished with 20 points and six rebounds and Garrett, who chipped in 17 points and grabbed a career-high 19 rebounds.
Two of FSU’s leading scorers for the season guard Makenzie White and backup center Brianna Innocent were held in check yesterday by State. White finished with just two points, while Innocent had just one.
FSU will be idle now until Saturday Dec. 14, when it visits Washington Adventist for a 7 p.m. game. That contest will be the final one of the first semester for the Lady Falcons.