By Matt Welch
Times West Virginian
Fairmont State men’s basketball is facing a stretch of must-win games laid out over just a matter of days. They’re now on their third game in five days and won’t receive more than a two-day break until after this upcoming weekend. Today, they’ll host Glenville State at Joe Retton Arena for a 7:30 p.m. tipoff, directly after the women’s game at 5:30 p.m.
WHITE OUT: The Falcons (13-6, 8-5 MEC) will host the Pioneers (12-6, 9-5 MEC) within a sea of white tonight, as coaches and officials are encouraging the Falcon faithful to wear white. Over the decades, white outs have been used to intimidate opposing teams, creating a scene that shows a united front against them. For Fairmont State, overcoming a team that has beaten them once already this season, fan support and a rowdy crowd will make the job just a little bit easier.
LAST TIME OUT: When FSU played Glenville State in late November, they came back home with a 94-87 loss. The 94 points scored by the Pioneers are the most the Falcons have given up to an opponent all season. Glenville was able to overcome an early 22-12 deficit and was led by their leading scorer on the season, Lamar Mallory with 25 points and nine rebounds. The Falcons were led by Stevie Browning, who scored a then-career-high 27 points.
“They beat us down there. You’ve got to give them a lot of credit,” Fairmont State coach Jerrod Calhoun said of the two team’s last meeting. “They played a lot of zone and we were struggling against it.”
The difference in the game, though, were points in the paint. The Falcons were outscored near the basket, 59-38.
STANDOUTS: For the Pioneers, Mallory will be key. The 6-foot-7 senior forward is averaging 22.0 points and 8.9 rebounds per contest this season. Matching up inside and around the perimeter with him will be Brendan Cooper who is averaging 14.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per game this season. Cooper has been making a comeback from a hand injury that has sidelined him for a good chunk of the season.
SHORT BREAKS: After a loss to the University of Charleston at home, Calhoun noted that he and his staff may not have been doing a good enough job of preparing his squad when they have only one day off in between games. With a young team, the Falcons have sometimes come out sluggish or seemed unfocused, Calhoun said. This time around, they’re taking a little bit different approach.
“To be honest, we went very light (Sunday),” Calhoun said. “Its very hard having three games in five days. We watched a lot of tape and shot the ball a bit. We really just walked through their stuff. Our guys are starting to understand their roles better and the know each game is bigger and bigger.”
The Falcons come back off of a two-game road stint, winning both games over West Virginia State and West Virginia Wesleyan, two wins that Calhoun said were big for the program. Now, though, the team has rested a bit and has been focusing their attention on tonight’s game.
“(Sunday) was really just about having a mental day and understanding the big picture,” said the second-year head coach.
PLAY WITH ENERGY: It has seemed at times this season that Calhoun’s falcons have lacked energy after starting games fast, building a lead then letting it slip away near the half or at the end of games. The problem is something Calhoun has addressed heavily with his team as they prepare for the homestretch.
“The important thing is that we play with energy and play well at home,” he said. “We have now showed that we can win on the road. Now we need to get back to doing it at home.”
The Falcons are 8-3 at home while the Pioneers are just 5-4 on the road, with all four of those losses coming in conference play.
PLAYING FOR MARCH: To make a trip to the NCAA Tournament, Calhoun and his Falcons must finish strong. With the Mountain East Conference being new and not receiving an automatic bid, the road is that much harder. But Calhoun believes the newly formed conference is top-heavy and can put as many as five teams into the post-season. Beating Glenville tonight will help their case.
“We have to understand that this team is right with us in the standings,” he said. “Our league is really top-heavy so it’s even more crucial to win games down the stretch. “
CALHOUN’S KEYS TO THE GAME: Calhoun said that if his Falcons are going to win they must do four things: 1) get out in transition 2) control the glass 3) get to the free throw line 4) control the tempo.
Email Matt Welch at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @MattWelch_TWV.