By Mike DeFabo
Times West Virginian
It is said that basketball is a game of runs.
That goes for games, as well as for seasons. Winning builds confidence and leads to more wins. Losing, on the other hand, can fester and tear a team apart.
When the Fairmont State University Fighting Falcons (15-7, 10-6) travel to Wheeling Jesuit today for a 7:30 p.m. game, they’ll be trying to avoid a losing streak after dropping their last game on Monday to Glenville State, 76-75.
But it won’t come easy against the Cardinals (13-8, 10-7), who have rattled off seven consecutive victories.
“Anytime you’ve got three games in one week, you can't let a loss escalate into a couple losses. You’ve got to move on,” said Fairmont State basketball coach Jerrod Calhoun. “You’ve got to figure out what went wrong, what you did bad, and then try to correct those things for the next game.”
According to Calhoun— and the stat sheet — “what went wrong” was turnovers. The Falcons coughed the ball up 24 times in the loss. It overshadowed Fairmont State’s consistently strong showing on the boards and on defense.
“We’re playing hard. There’s no question about it. Our effort is there. We’re the best defensive team (in the MEC) if you look at the numbers. And our rebounding is there,” Calhoun said. “But it’s the constant mistakes of turning the ball over.”
Calhoun and the coaching staff placed an increased emphasis on ball security during practices leading up to today’s game. They hope it pays off against one of the hottest teams in the Mountain East Conference, both in terms of wins and in terms of shooting.
Wheeling Jesuit ranks second in the league in field-goal percentage (49.8 percent) thanks to two players who are among the league’s top 10 scorers.
Justin Fritts, a catch-and-shoot 3-point threat, is the sixth-leading scorer with 18.8 points per game. He’s joined by teammate Eric Siefert, who is just behind at seventh in the conference. He uses his athleticism to get to the basket and draw fouls, leading to 17.8 points per game.
The duo combined for 27 points when the teams first met on Jan. 9. Siefert was one point, rebound and assist away from a triple double, putting up 9, 9 and 9. But the Falcons held on to win 80-74.
To counter the Cardinals’ sharpshooting, Fairmont State will rely on its defense. Along with rebounding, this side of the basketball has consistently been the team’s strength this season. Opponents are shooting 43.1 percent against Fairmont State, making the Falcons the top-ranked defensive team in the conference.
It should set up a matchup of strength vs. strength when the two teams take the court today.
“We're playing a team that's very good offensively. We're very good defensively,” Calhoun said. “One of those things has to give, because one of the teams has to win.”
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The Fairmont State women’s basketball team also travels to Wheeling Jesuit today for a 5:30 p.m. MEC showdown.
The Falcons (12-7, 10-6) currently sit in fourth place in the conference after dropping their last game against No. 10 Glenville State, 115-101, to end their three-game winning streak.
The Cardinals (11-10, 8-9), meanwhile, are fighting to stay above .500.
The matchup appears favorable for Fairmont State, at least on paper.
The Falcons are first in the conference in field-goal percentage at 45.8 percent. They’ll be up against a Cardinals team that is second-to-last in field-goal defense (42.7 percent).
Email Mike DeFabo at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @MikeDeFaboTWV.