By Duane Cochran
Times West Virginian
For 26 minutes here Saturday afternoon West Virginia Wesleyan made visiting Fairmont State play its game.
In the final 14 minutes, however, the Falcons turned the tables on the Bobcats and forced them to play their style of ball. The result was FSU’s fifth straight victory and its 10th in 11 outings as it rolled to a 78-67 win.
Fairmont State is now 15-4 overall and 13-2 in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. The Falcons return home Monday to host Wheeling Jesuit in a 7:30 p.m. game at the Joe Retton Arena.
Trailing 42-36 Saturday in what had been a methodical, halfcourt game until that point, Fairmont got a tough, six-foot turnaround bucket under pressure from Ke’Chaun Lewis at the 14:01 mark to trim the margin to four. After the basket, first-year FSU coach Jerrod Calhoun called timeout and forced the issue with his team putting them in a full-court trapping defense called scramble which essentially changed the tide in the contest.
“We were trying to switch things up there,” said Calhoun. “We needed to create a little havoc. Essentially that’s what we were trying to do.
“We wanted to run and jump a little bit and we got a lot of steals and got the game away from being a halfcourt game, which is what they wanted. Isaac (Thornton) was very active on the ball for us in that defense and Malik (Stith) really did a great job on his rotations. That move really helped us today.”
Indeed it did. Over the course of the next 6:14 with Fairmont’s trapping, full-court defense in place the Falcons outscored the somewhat dazed Bobcats, 21-8, to open a 59-50 advantage.
“Up until that point we were kind of having a bad game,” said Thornton, who finished with a team-high 22 points and five rebounds. “We couldn’t get steals and we weren’t making baskets. They were keeping us in the halfcourt and that’s not our game. We want to get out and run.
“We pressed them, got some steals and that got us going.”
After Fairmont got the lead to nine the Bobcats, who have now dropped five games in a row and fell to 8-10 overall and to 5-9 in the WVIAC, never got any closer than six despite the best efforts of senior center Kelsey Williams, who finished with a game-high 28 points and 10 rebounds.
“They were coming into this one off of four losses, but they’ve been in every game,” said Calhoun. “I think Kelsey Williams is one of the best players in this league. He was a really hard guard for us today. He’s so physical and he can beat you off the bounce.”
Williams accounted for half of the Bobcats’ 36 second-half points, scoring 18 of his 28 points in the final 20 minutes.
FSU, though, was able to offset Williams’ big day with strong outings from Thornton, Brendan Cooper and Isaiah Hill. Cooper joined Thornton in double figures with 17 points. He also grabbed nine rebounds and handed out a team-best six assists. Hill, meanwhile, posted his third double-double of the season finishing with 15 points and 11 rebounds. Thornton, Cooper, Hill and Stith combined for 41 of FSU’s 48 second-half points. Thanks to Hill and Cooper, Fairmont also owned the boards in the contest as the Falcons out-rebounded Wesleyan, 39-27.
“We’re a lot bigger and stronger than they are so coach really got on us about straight-line drives and attacking the rim every time because we’re hard to stop against teams like that when we do that,” said Cooper. “We knew we also had to rebound the ball today and Isaac and I both got a lot of offensive putbacks for us by being aggressive.
“It was a struggle for a while today because we like to get out and run and we weren’t doing that. Once we started pressing, though, that pretty much changed everything.”