Times West Virginian
WEST LIBERTY —
Visiting Fairmont State forced unbeaten and No. 1-ranked West Liberty, the nation’s top scoring team, to play its game here Saturday at the ASRC.
It, however, didn’t matter.
The Hilltoppers adapted to Fairmont’s attempts to slow the game’s pace, took control of the contest late in the first half and early in the second and cruised to a 77-60 victory over the Falcons to improve to 14-0 overall and to 10-0 in the Mountain East Conference.
The win was the 14th in a row for West Liberty over FSU and was the 22nd in 23 tries for Hilltopper coach Jim Crutchfield against the Falcons. Fairmont’s last win in the series came way back on Valentine’s Day in 2008. Crutchfield is now an incredible 255-45 as a head coaching since taking over West Liberty’s program 10 seasons ago.
“It comes down to we had 35 seconds to score and they held the ball and had about 15 seconds to score on their end so we needed 15 seconds of good defense,” said Crutchfield, whose team came into the contest averaging 113.7 points per outing. “People will say ‘You only scored 77 points.’ Well, we held them to just 60 and that’s the name of the game.”
The loss, Fairmont’s second in a row, drops the Falcons to 10-5 overall and to 5-4 in the Mountain East Conference.
The undermanned Falcons, who have been hampered this season by a number of injuries, executed their game plan to near-perfection early. After falling behind by seven points four times midway through the opening half, FSU re-grouped and reeled off 13 unanswered points to take a 26-20 lead with 6:01 left in the half. West Liberty, however, wasn’t phased. The powerful Hilltoppers closed the half on a 15-4 run to take a 35-30 lead at the break.
In the second half West Liberty picked up where it left off and less than eight minutes into the final 20 had established its first double-digit lead of the game at 51-39 with 12:19 left to play. After that, Fairmont never got any closer than 12 the rest of the way.
“Our game plan was to try to stretch possessions and limit their possessions,” said FSU coach Jerrod Calhoun. “They like to play fast and with our depleted lineup we were trying to slow them down. I thought we did a tremendous job of that in the first half, but they came out of the gate in the second half and got up by 10 or 12. We kind of stopped guarding them in the second half. They’re very good when they made step-in shots. In the first half they didn’t make any, but they did in the second half.
“You know we held them to 77 points, but we just didn’t make enough points ourselves at the end of the night.”
West Liberty’s bench outscored the Falcons 28-6 in the game. Both Devin Hoehn and Kelvin Goodwin came off the bench to lead the Hilltoppers with 13 points apiece. West Liberty also got 12 points from both Cedric Harris and Shawn Dyer. Eleven of Harris’ came in the final 20 minutes, while Dyer tallied eight of his dozen in the second half.
FSU was led by Thomas Wimbush, who finished with 14 points before fouling out with 2:49 remaining. The Falcons also got 12 points from both Stevie Browning and Chase Morgan and a career-high 10 points and 14 rebounds from redshirt freshman center Trevor Andrews-Evans.
The Falcons played the game without starting point guard Shammgod Wells, who is sidelined with a reported concussion. FSU, however, did have sophomore guard Ke’Chaun Lewis return to the lineup Saturday after missing several weeks with a dislocated elbow. Lewis played 37 minutes Saturday and finished with six points and five rebounds.
“Going forward we hope to get some guys back this week and in coming weeks,” said Calhoun. “We hope to get Brendan Cooper back this week and Shammgod Wells, we believe, will play Thursday.
“We know our backs are against the wall right now. We’ve got 13 games remaining and we feel like we need to win at least 10 of them so we’ve got to get back to work and get better as a team.”
Fairmont will return to the court Thursday with a MEC road game against second-place Shepherd University at 7:30 p.m. The Rams have won three straight and are 13-3 overall and 8-2 in the league. The Falcons then return home Saturday, Jan. 25 to host Charleston in a 4 p.m. game at the Joe Retton Arena.