By Duane Cochran
Times West Virginian
Saturday afternoon on Senior Day at the Joe Retton Arena Fairmont State senior Brianna Innocent was anything but that against visiting Shepherd University.
The 6-foot-1 backup center came off the bench and torched the Lady Rams in the regular-season finale for 27 points and a career-high 16 rebounds to help lead FSU to a 103-80 victory.
With the win Fairmont State improved to 17-9 overall and to 14-8 in the Mountain East Conference. The Lady Falcons clinched the No. 5 spot in the final league regular-season standings and will host an opening-round MEC Tournament game Tuesday evening at the Joe Retton Arena against No. 12 West Virginia Wesleyan (2-24, 0-22). Tip off is set for 7 p.m.
Innocent, who entered the game at the 18:10 mark of the opening half when starting forward Emily Lohr picked up her second foul, was a perfect 6-of-6 from the field in the first half and finished with 14 points and seven rebounds to help FSU overcome a sloppy, turnover-filled, opening-half performance and hold a 45-41 lead at the break.
In the second half she came back into the contest with 16:12 remaining when Lohr suffered her fourth foul and continued her solid play scoring 13 points and grabbing nine rebounds during an 11-minute span in which FSU extended its lead from six points to 23.
“I couldn't ask for a better performance today,” said a smiling Innocent, who posted her sixth double-double outing of the season for Fairmont State. “Coach gave me some minutes and I took advantage of them. I just wanted to play my heart out for my team in my last regular season game at home and I was able to do that.”
Indeed Innocent was. And when she wasn't wreaking havoc in the paint for the Lady Falcons her teammate Hailey Garrett was. The 6-foot junior forward exploded for 19 second-half points and finished with 25 for the game.
“Bri had a great game for us,” said Garrett. “She's a great player. She can run the floor, post up, make a move and she really has the ability to score anytime she wants to. That was evident today. She always seems to play her best when her family is here so I'm really happy they were able to come and watch her play very well for us in her last regular-season home game.
“As for me, sometimes it's a struggle for me to get going in the first half, but I just tried to pick it up in the second half and do my part to help out the team.”
As noted, turnovers hampered Fairmont early. The Lady Falcons committed a whopping 17 in the first half which allowed the Lady Rams to stay close. In the second half, FSU settled down, suffering just six turnovers and as a result outscored Shepherd 58-39 to cruise to the win.
“We had some unnecessary turnovers today and we've got to learn we can't do that,” said Innocent. “It just hampers what we want to do.”
“There's no doubt we have to cut down on our turnovers,” she said. “I think there's little things that we can all do to help us in that area.”
Joining Innocent and Garrett in double figures for FSU were Deidra Combs, who finished with 16 points and six rebounds and Hallie Gunnoe, who chipped in 14 points, eight assists and five boards. The Lady Falcons also got nine points, a game-high 11 assists and six rebounds from Makenzie White and four points and one rebound from senior Kaitlyn Antolock.
Shepherd, which fell to 4-22 overall and to 4-18 in the league, was led by Liz Myers' 17 points and six rebounds. The Lady Rams also got 15 points apiece from both Gabby Flinchum and Cara Mason. Shepherd finished 11th in the MEC and will visit No. 6 Urbana for a first-round tournament game Tuesday night.