By Duane Cochran
Times West Virginian
With 10 minutes remaining here Saturday afternoon at the Joe Retton Arena, Fairmont State point guard Malik Stith decided enough was enough and took matters into his own hands to help lead the Falcons to an 82-72 victory over pesky Bluefield State.
Stith, a transfer from St. John’s University, watched the visiting Blues whittle a 19-point second-half FSU lead to two before he took over. He scored eight of the Falcons’ 15 points on a crucial 15-1 spurt in a 2:26 span to help his team regain control of the game and improve to 4-2 overall and to 2-1 in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference with the victory.
“I probably felt a little pressure there,” said Stith, who finished with 16 points, 12 of which came in the game’s final 10 minutes. “We had built a big lead coming out in the second half and blew it. That’s not good. We want to extend every lead we’ve got.
“I just saw some open opportunities that I hadn’t seen throughout the game. When I saw a lane I just took it, went to the rim and happened to score the ball to help us stretch the lead back out.
“It’s my job to lead the team. It’s not really my job to score the ball unless I have opportunities and when I got them at that point I just tried to put the ball in the basket for us.”
Less than five minutes into the second half it looked as if Fairmont State was poised to blow Bluefield, a team which has now lost 30 games in a row dating back to last season, out of the gym.
Led by Isaac Thornton, who finished with 15 points, FSU opened the final half on a 14-0 run to extend its five-point halftime advantage to 19 at 52-33 with 15:36 left to play.
“Coach told me to stay aggressive and keep shooting the ball because I didn’t have a good first half,” said Thornton, who scored the first six points of the final half for Fairmont. “I just tried to be aggressive. My teammates looked for me, found me and had confidence in me. I just had to do it for the team.”
However, once Fairmont opened the 19-point lead the Falcons relaxed and Bluefield State made them pay. The Blues answered FSU’s run with an impressive 17-0 outburst of their own over the course of the next five minutes to close to within two at 52-50 with plenty of time remaining. That’s when Stith took over and re-ignited the spark in his team.
“Malik’s great,” said Thornton. “I don’t think anybody can guard him when he’s got the ball and going to the hoop. He stayed aggressive and sparked that run which was great for us. He’s very competitive and doesn’t want to lose.”
Once Fairmont re-established a 16-point, 67-51, lead the Blues could never get any closer than 10 the rest of the way.
For the second straight game Fairmont was led in scoring by senior center Isaiah Hill, who finished with 18 points, seven rebounds and three blocks. Fourteen of his points came in the first half.
“I just try to feed off of my teammates,” said Hill. “If coach calls a play for me I just do what I’m told and it works. My teammates do a great job of getting me the ball and finding me inside.
“We’ve got a group of guys this year who are all basically new and learning to play with one another. We’re coming along and we’re starting to get this defense thing down which is what the coaches are really stressing to us. We know we can score offensively, we just need to be better defensively and tonight I think we were.”
FSU also got a big second-half performance in the win from Brendan Cooper, who finished with 13 points, a game-high 12 rebounds and five assists. Ten of his points, 11 of his rebounds and three of his assists came in the final half.
“Tonight was the first time all year we’ve kind of struggled offensively,” said FSU coach Jerrod Calhoun. “We’ve been averaging 92 points. Finally in the second half we stopped shooting threes and moved our defense a little bit.
“Tonight we guarded pretty well. We only gave up 72 points, but we didn’t get quite as many transition points as we usually get and that’s to their credit because they got back in transition and took some of that away from us. Usually our offense isn’t the problem it’s our defense, but tonight I’m happy with our defensive effort.”
Bluefield, which fell to 0-5 overall and to 0-3 in the league, got 20 points and 10 rebounds from Vincent Rogers, 12 points from Johnny Uhegwu and 11 from Remar Brothers.
FSU will be idle now for 14 days. The Falcons don’t return to action until Saturday, Dec. 15 when they visit the University of Charleston for a 4 p.m. contest at the Eddie King Gymnasium.