By Duane Cochran
For the Times West Virginian
Second-year Fairmont State men’s basketball coach Jerrod Calhoun was counting on a lot of things Monday night at the Joe Retton Arena.
What he wasn’t counting on was his team not showing up.
With the FSU students back on campus and a raucous student section in attendance, Fairmont’s basketball team went out and pretty much laid an egg against fired-up UVA-Wise here last night at the Joe Retton Arena.
The result was an 82-77 Cavaliers’ win that left the home crowd of nearly 700 somewhat stunned and disappointed. But not nearly as much as Calhoun.
“I thought Virginia-Wise was bouncing off the walls to play Fairmont State tonight,” said Calhoun, who saw his team’s three-game winning streak halted with the loss. “The sad part with such a young team is you try to teach, you try to talk and you try to motivate, but our guys just didn’t have it tonight. There was no energy from the start.
“I think this one’s on them. I was here late until three or four in the morning after our Saturday game preparing for this one. Coach (Manny) Robinson and I did our jobs. Sometimes guys have to be accountable to play. When you have to constantly beg guys to play and to get up and down the court, that’s a problem. We’ve got four days to get it fixed before we play the No. 1 team in the country (West Liberty) or we’ll lose by 50 points. I mean it’ll be an absolute massacre up in West Liberty if we don’t get better in a hurry.”
The loss dropped Fairmont State to 10-4 overall and to 5-3 in the Mountain East Conference. UVA-Wise, on the other hand, halted its three-game skid with the victory and improved to 7-6 overall and to 4-5 in the league.
If the Falcons were looking ahead to Saturday’s showdown with unbeaten, league-leading and No. 1-ranked West Liberty, then shame on them because Wise was clearly focused on its task at hand Monday night — beating Fairmont.
The Cavaliers played hard from start to finish, opening a 13-point first-half lead over FSU before finally settling on a 41-31 advantage at the break. In the second half, every time Fairmont made a run at the Cavaliers, they had an answer right up until the waning seconds when it looked as if the Falcons just might pull off a miracle comeback.
Trailing by 10 with 40 seconds remaining, FSU got back within three at 80-77 with 26 seconds left thanks to a pair of costly turnovers by the Cavaliers and 3-point field goals by Shammgod Wells
and Chase Morgan, and a 1-of-2 performance at the foul line by Otar Pkhakadze. That, however, was as close as the Falcons would get. Wise’s James Turner and Deon Boyce both went 1-of-2 at the foul line in the final 20 seconds to help keep FSU at bay.
“They came ready to play and we didn’t. That’s the bottom line,” said FSU’s Stevie Browning, who led all scorers with 23 points. “As a result, we took the loss.
“We have no excuses. We should have never put ourselves in the position that we did tonight by playing like we did early. It’s all on us.”
Wise was led by Charles George’s 20 points. The Cavaliers also got 17 points from both Boyce and Matt Day. Boyce also grabbed 10 rebounds for Wise, while Day tallied 16 of his 17 points in the second half. Javon Moore also chipped in a dozen points for the visitors.
Joining Browning in double figures for Fairmont were Wells, who finished with 18 points, seven assists and four steals, and Martins Abele, who scored 12 points and pulled down a game-high 12 rebounds. Wells scored 16 of his 18 in the second half.
“Tonight we had a great crowd and a great student section,” said Calhoun. “The kids really rallied us back when we needed a little energy. I thought the crowd was fantastic. What’s disappointing is we’ve worked so hard to get a good, big crowd and then we let everyone in Fairmont down. That’s what we did tonight.
“Really this loss counts as two. When you lose a home game, it really hurts you.”
As noted, Fairmont will be idle now until Saturday, when it visits top-ranked West Liberty for a 4 p.m. MEC battle at the Hilltoppers’ ASRC.