By Mike DeFabo
Times West Virginian
When Fairmont State hosts West Liberty today for a 2 p.m. women’s game and 4 p.m. men’s game, the Falcons will be offering free tickets to all elementary, middle school and high school students as a part of “Education Appreciation Day.” The offer extends to all faculty and staff from FSU and Pierpont Community & Technical College.
“I think it’s a tremendous idea to reward these kids that go to school and work so hard throughout the year,” said Fairmont State men’s basketball coach Jerrod Calhoun. “(Athletic Director) Tim (McNeely) just wanted to reach out to all the local people and invite them to a game to enjoy themselves.”
In addition, the first 500 fans through the doors will receive a complimentary T-shirt.
But for the men’s team, which takes on the No. 5 ranked team in the country, that’s where the hand-outs end.
The Falcons won’t be getting anything for free from a Hilltopper team that ranks at the top of the MEC in the majority of statistical categories including scoring offense (108.4 ppg), scoring margin (+24.4), field-goal percentage (50.5 percent), 3-point percentage (42.2 percent), rebounding offense (43.5 per game), blocked shots (4.91 per game), assists (21.23 per game), turnover margin (+7.77), assists-to-turnover ratio (2.07) and — most importantly — wins (21).
It’s no wonder the Hilltoppers (21-1, 17-1) have already clinched the Mountain East Conference regular-season title with a 106-97 win over second-place Shepherd Thursday.
“They are a veteran ball club that’s played in huge games. They played in the NCAA tournament. They have a ton of experience,” Calhoun said. “And they can really pass and shoot the ball as good as anybody I’ve seen.”
Fairmont State (15-8, 10-7 MEC), meanwhile, enters the game on a two-game slide after losing back-to-back one-possession games to Wheeling Jesuit and Glenville State.
The last time the two teams met on Jan. 18, Fairmont State slowed down the pace of the game. The plan was for the Falcons to capitalize on their strength as a defensive team, while limiting West Liberty’s ability to turn the game into a track meet.
The strategy worked well, at least for the first 20-plus minutes. The Falcons kept up and trailed by just a possession in the opening minutes of the second half before eventually falling, 77-60.
Calhoun and the Falcons may employ a similar tactic this time around as well.
Despite the inevitable challenges that the Hilltoppers’ potent offense presents, Calhoun said that his team will be ready.
“I don’t think our guys will be star struck or anything like that. They’ve played against these guys once,” he said. “We’ve got to come out of the gate, get over those last two losses and try to learn from our mistakes.”
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The Fairmont State women’s basketball team has a critical opportunity to gain ground in the MEC when the team tips off with the Hilltoppers at 2 p.m.
The Falcons (13-7, 11-6 MEC) enter the game in fourth place. They can hand second-place West Liberty (16-8, 13-5 MEC) it’s sixth conference loss, and in the process leap-frog the Hilltoppers.
Fairmont State already has a track record of beating West Liberty. The Falcons picked up a road victory at West Liberty earlier this season, 85-75.
If they can come away with the same result today, it will mean just one more win for their record. But in the standings, it will mean much more.
Email Mike DeFabo at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @MikeDeFaboTWV.