By Duane Cochran
For the Times West Virginian
For the first time in a month, Fairmont State University’s men’s and women’s basketball teams will be in action today at the Joe Retton Arena.
The Falcons play host to Seton Hill (Pa.) University in a doubleheader that has undergone a time change to allow fans to make it home in time for the NCAA BCS National Championship football game between Notre Dame and Alabama.
FSU’s Lady Falcons will square off with Seton Hill at 4 p.m., while the men’s contest is slated for a 6 p.m. tip.
First-year Fairmont State men’s coach Jerrod Calhoun said he’s eager for Falcon fans to see his team, which enters today’s game 7-3 overall, 5-1 and ranked third in the latest West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference standings behind West Liberty, the nation’s No. 1 ranked team, and Shepherd.
“We haven’t been in Fairmont for a game since early December,” Calhoun said. “We’ve been on the road for quite some time and it’s going to be good to get back home Monday night in front of our fans with the opportunity to show people how much better we’ve gotten as a team in the last few weeks.
“I really hope people come out and support us. We’ve grown up a little. We beat a very good Charleston team down there. We should’ve beaten Kent State, a Division I team we lost to by two at the buzzer. We beat Wheeling on the road last Wednesday and then got another one Saturday night on the road at Ohio Valley.”
Since starting the season 2-2, Fairmont has won five of its last six games with the only loss being a 77-75 setback against the Division I Golden Flashes, who are now 9-5 on the year. One of the big keys to Fairmont’s improved play has been a better effort on defense by the Falcons, who are currently fifth in the 15-team WVIAC in points allowed (73.2).
“We’ve worked hard to improve defensively,” Calhoun said. “Offensively we haven’t had trouble scoring the ball. We’re like fourth in the conference in scoring and we’ve been pretty consistent doing that. Our struggles early in the year were on defense. We’re mixing things up now. We’re playing a lot of zone and our man-to-man defense has gotten much better, which has resulted in us becoming better as a team.
“We’re going to get a good test, though, Monday night. Seton Hill is the top defensive team in the conference (61.7) and they’re very well coached by Tony Morocco, who is a veteran coach that’s been around a while.”
The Griffins come into tonight’s game 6-4 overall, 3-3 and ranked eighth in the WVIAC. SHU has won three of its last four outings and is led by 6-4 junior guard/forward Max Kenyi, who averages 13.8 points per game, and 6-7 junior forward Malachi Leonard, who averages 13.5 points per outing.
FSU has four players averaging in double figures — Brendan Cooper (15.4), Isaiah Hill (13.9), Isaac Thornton (13.8) and Malik Stith (13.0). The Falcons also get 9.9 points per game from Stevie Browning and 9.3 points per contest from Chase Morgan.
On the women’s side, Fairmont State and Seton Hill come into today’s game ranked third and fourth, respectively, in the WVIAC. The Lady Falcons have won six of their last seven outings and bring a 7-3 overall record and 5-1 league mark into the contest.
Seton Hill, meanwhile, is the hottest team in the conference right now. After an 0-4 start, the Lady Griffins have reeled off eight straight victories and enter today’s game 8-4 overall and 5-1 in the WVIAC.
“I’ve seen at least five films on them up until this point and they’re very good,” said Lady Falcons coach Steve McDonald. “They’re very well coached and they’re very strong up the middle. Their point guard is a super player. She’s shooting like 50 percent from 3-point range and their five is certainly one of the best post players in the league. They have great complementary players who understand their roles to go with them as well. When you combine all of that with great coaching, it’s easy to see why they’ve won eight games in a row.”
Seton Hill’s 5-8 junior point guard Paige Alviani leads the Lady Griffins in scoring with a 15.8 average, while 6-foot junior center Katie Gattuso is second at 15.6. Gattuso also leads the league in rebounding with an average of 11.7 per outing and has posted a WVIAC-leading eight double-doubles in 12 games.
“We’ve got to continue the progression we’ve made as a team here after the Christmas break,” McDonald said. “We had a great week of practice and followed that up with a very good second half against Wheeling Jesuit. Then we had a very good overall game Saturday against Ohio Valley. We just need to keep making progress in terms of how we want to play.
“We have to find a way Monday to deal with Alviani and Gattuso and not overlook their other players. They’re going to run some good sets and we’ve got to be prepared to defend them. I feel, though, that the outcome of this game is going to depend a lot on how we play.”
The Lady Falcons are led in scoring by Kaitlin Snyder (16.6), Hailey Garrett (14.0), Tiffany Nicholson (9.1) and Briana Welch (8.9). Garrett also leads the team in rebounding with an average of 8.7 boards per game.