Times West Virginian
ETTRICK, Va. —
Fairmont State’s men’s basketball team passed its first “real” test here Tuesday evening in fine fashion.
And they did it without leading scorer Brendan Cooper, who was held out of the contest with a minor back injury.
The Falcons took to the road for the first time this season last night and handed Virginia State University a 72-55 setback at Daniel Gymnasium.
“This was a great win for a young team,” said first-year FSU head coach Jerrod Calhoun, who watched his squad improve to 2-0. “To go on the road and play a team from the CIAA, which is a good conference, and get a win like we did is nice. I think we can move on this win, learn from it and continue to get better.
“At times it was close and we made some mistakes, but we had some guys really step up for us. This was a true team win. Andrew Gunnoe gave us some really good minutes, Ty Garrison played a lot for us, and Stevie Browning was tremendous again. We’ve got a lot of different options on our basketball team. We’re not a one-man show. We’ve got 10 or 11 guys who on any given night can really play.”
All 10 players who saw action for the Falcons last night scored, led by Browning’s 16 points off of the bench. FSU also got 12 points and a game-high eight assists from point guard Malik Stith and 10 points and five rebounds in his season debut from senior guard/forward Isaac Thornton.
Chase Morgan chipped in eight points. Isaiah Hill and Gunnoe finished with seven apiece, and Melvin Rhodes added six. Gunnoe also grabbed five rebounds, while Hill, who battled foul trouble, pulled down four.
Fairmont, which put 127 points on the board in its opener against outmanned Ohio Eastern, had just 29 points and a six-point advantage at the half last night against the Trojans. However, in the second half FSU quickly got on track and raced to a 41-26 lead in a span of just three minutes. After that Virginia State never got any closer than eight.
“I thought we missed a lot of shots in the first half,” said Calhoun. “We ran a lot of sets and got good shots, but we missed some easy ones. I wasn’t very happy that we were only up six at the break.
“In the second half, though, the guys came out of the gate ready to go.”
Fairmont shot 54 percent from the field for the game (27-of-50), including a 57.7 percent shooting performance in the final half (15-of-26). The Falcons forced Virginia State to shoot just 32 percent from the field for the game, including 29.6 percent in the second half. The Trojans were also a dismal 17-of-31 at the foul line in the contest. In addition, Fairmont outscored VSU 28-14 in the paint and the Falcons’ bench outscored the Trojans 33-14.
“I think we wore them down with our pressure,” said Calhoun. “They missed a lot of free throws. We extended our press in the second half and quite simply I think we wore them out.
“Malik did a great job for us tonight. He’s a really, really good player – one of the best point guards at our level in the country. He didn’t play real well in our first game with Ohio-Eastern, so I knew he’d bounce back and be ready to go tonight. He’s the quarterback of our team. We just feel real comfortable with the ball in his hands and him running our team. He did a great job of getting us in some things tonight.”
Virginia State, which was led by Christopher Grier’s 18 points and Kenny Mitchell’s 16, got within 10 of Fairmont late at 64-54 with 2:16 left to play. The Falcons, though, outscored the Trojans 8-1 in the final two minutes to cruise to the victory.
Fairmont State will be back in action Friday evening at home when it hosts a nonconference game with WVU-Tech at 7:30 p.m. at the Joe Retton Arena.
Cooper, who scored 26 points in the Falcons’ opener, is expected to return to the lineup against the Golden Bears.