By Matt Welch
Times West Virginian
Fairmont State coach Jerrod Calhoun said that his squad is very familiar with West Virginia Wesleyan, a team it has seen once already this season. But now, as the Falcons travel to take on the Bobcats today at 4 p.m., the dynamic of the game is in a whole new world.
Back on Nov. 23, Fairmont State (12-6, 7-5 MEC) was able to pick up a convincing win over Wesleyan (13-8, 8-5 MEC). The Falcons led for most of the game and eventually won, 70-57. Senior swingman Brendan Cooper led the way for FSU, scoring 21 points and pulling down eight rebounds. Overall, the Falcons outrebounded Wesleyan, 37-22.
Since coming to Fairmont State, Calhoun has not lost to the Bobcats, but he admits that they are improved.
“I think Wesleyan is one of the most-improved teams in the league,” the second-year coach head coach said. “They’re led by TJ Thompson, a senior who is really good at making shots.”
Before their last meeting, Calhoun said that the two teams were very similar in their attitudes and philosophy, but as the season has grown longer so, too, have the two teams’ styles grown apart.
“We have two contrasting styles. We’re more of a power team, and they’re more of a finesse team,” he said.
The stats prove Calhoun right.
Wesleyan prides itself on the long ball whereas FSU likes to use its longer bodies to bang the boards and pound the ball inside.
The Bobcats make an average of 10.5 3-point shots per game to the Falcons’ 4.4 but only grab 30.2 rebounds per game to Fairmont State’s 41.3.
To get the advantage, Calhoun said, they’ll need to control the tempo and to stay focused.
One advantage that Fairmont State can take into this game that wasn’t there in the previous victory is the emergence of redshirt freshman forward Thomas Wimbush.
Since playing 14 minutes and scoring seven points against the Bobcats in their first meeting, Wimbush has went on to average 14.4 points and 5.8 rebounds per game all while averaging 27.6 minutes per contest.
“Thomas really gives us a different dynamic,” Calhoun said. “He did a tremendous job (Thursday) night. He did a great job taking care of the basketball. When he and Cooper are attacking and slashing we’re a good basketball team.”
Time after time Calhoun has been stressing more and more for his players to take better care of the ball, something that Wimbush has been picking up on.
In Thursday night’s win, the 6-foot-7 forward had 25 points, seven rebounds and not a single turnover.
Limiting those mistakes as well as getting Wesleyan off its game will be key for the Falcons in today’s game, Calhoun said.
“We’ve got to get transition baskets. We’ve got to speed up the game,” he said. “We can’t let them get settled in and run their stuff.”
Led by Thompson’s solid 17.3 points per game, the Bobcats have been scoring 75.9 points per contest, while shooting 48.7 percent from the floor and 42.3 percent from behind the arc. Stopping those kinds of shots and forcing Wesleyan to take the ball inside should give the Falcons their best chance to take advantage of their talents.
To escape with another road win is crucial for the Falcons, who have lost three of their last five games. A big win will only help the team’s chances if they want to make a case for postseason play.
Calhoun said the time is here and now.
“Our guys gotta win games and be focused every night,” Calhoun said. “We can’t take games off. We’ve got to play every game like it’s our last. I think our guys finally see that the light’s on.”
NOTES: The Lady Falcons (9-6, 7-5 MEC) will take on Wesleyan just before the men’s game at 2 p.m. ... Wesleyan (2-15, 0-13) has lost its last 12 games and lost to FSU, 75-42, during the last meeting. ... Hallie Gunnoe scored 19 points in that win.
Email Matt Welch at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @MattWelch_TWV.