By Nick Cammuso
Times West Virginian
While not a mirror image, Fairmont State men’s basketball coach Jerrod Calhoun believes he sees a lot of his team in Alderson-Broaddus.
“They have four seniors, very similar to us, and realize these last couple weeks down the stretch is it,” Calhoun, the Falcons’ first-year head coach, said.
The Falcons are in a similar place, with seven seniors and a roster eyeing to complete a turnaround season with a West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title. The path to get there continues tonight in a men’s-women’s doubleheader at the Joe Retton Arena.
On the men’s side, it’s a tilt between the No. 2 (FSU) and No. 3 (A-B) teams in the WVIAC. Fairmont State (17-5, 15-3) notched an 88-73 comeback win over Pitt-Johnstown Monday; A-B enters play at 16-6 and 14-4 after a 80-59 rout of West Virginia State.
Fans are asked to wear red for the Valentine’s Day games to help support awareness for congenital heart defects (CHD). Ella Hatten, an area 1-year old with CHD, will receive a game ball. In addition, FSU players will be sporting red wristbands with Ella’s name on them.
“Neil Dixon, one of my assistants, his wife works with Ella’s mom and kind of brought to our attention the struggles and the things she has been through,” Calhoun said. “So we wanted to honor her in some way and make it a special night.
“It’s just a neat thing and it also goes along with Valentine’s Day, so we’re encouraging everybody to wear red. When you hear things like this, you want to help people and spread the awareness. I think that’s the most important thing.”
As for the game, both have been riding a recent wave of success. A-B has won five of six — the only blemish a 92-79 home loss to NCAA Division II No. 3 West Liberty last Saturday — while FSU has won seven of eight and is 12-2 since changing calendars.
“They’re playing at an extremely high level and it’s been a great rivalry for years with the schools being so close together,” Calhoun said. “There’s been some great games over the years, and I’m sure tonight’s game is going to be just the same.”
What has stood out to Calhoun from watching the Battlers is, well, their ability to battle.
The team is known for playing hard and it shows in its defense thus far — A-B is tops in the league in opponents’ field goal percentage (41.6) and second in scoring defense (68.5 points per game).
“The most impressive thing about Alderson-Broaddus is they play so hard. I’ve known coach (Greg) Zimmerman a long time — he used to come to our practices at West Virginia — and I really admire how hard they play defensively. They’re very, very good and try to take you out of things. They rebound the ball very well.
“They extend you out and put a lot of pressure on the basketball. They play the passing lanes extremely well and play very hard. And they’re plus-eight on the glass, and that’s probably their biggest strength.”
A-B is led by Kurklin Bohanon with 15.5 points per game and 5.6 rebounds per game. Big man O’Dell Eargle averages 13.3 points, seven rebounds and shoots 61 percent from the field.
In all, the Battlers have been led in scoring by six different players in the last nine games.
“They’ve got a very balanced team, a lot like us,” Calhoun said. “They have a freshman point guard, but the majority of the guys that score their points are upperclassmen, guys who have been through the league. That’s probably the biggest difference between us and them; we’re just now finishing our first season through the league.”
But slowly but surely FSU has found its footing. The Falcons trailed 27-14 just 11 minutes into Monday’s game with UPJ, but held a 50-35 scoring edge in the second half.
FSU got double-doubles from Isaiah Hill (21 points, 11 rebounds) and Isaac Thornton (12 points, 12 rebounds) in the winning effort — and also got kudos from legendary coach Joe Retton after capping the furious rally.
“After the game, coach Retton gave me a call on the way home and really was very complimentary of our team and said that was one of the best second-half defensive performances that he’d seen in a long time,” Calhoun said. “I shared that with the team. Hopefully we can build on that down the stretch, because when we play defense the way we did in the second half, we’re a really, really good basketball team.
“We made some adjustments, we changed up our (defensive) pressure as to where it was coming from, and I think the guys had a sense of urgency. In the second half, they were so focused and dialed in.”
Fairmont State leads the all-time series between the two schools, 87-57, but A-B has won the last three matchups.
Also, the Falcon women (15-8, 13-5) hosts a suddenly-hot Alderson-Broaddus team (7-15, 6-12) at 5:30 p.m.
The Falcons are coming off a strong defensive showing against Pitt-Johnstown on Monday, holding the Mountain Cats to just five field goals and 13 points in the second half for a 68-41 win.
Alderson-Broaddus defeated West Virginia State, 52-49, on Monday night. A-B enters Thursday’s game having won three of its last four.
The Battlers are led by Leah Hurst with 11.5 points per game. Amanda Peoples adds 11.1 points and a team-best 9.0 rebounds.
Email Nick Cammuso at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter@NickCammusoTWV.