The Times West Virginian

March 2, 2014

Falcons edge Shepherd, earn first-round bye: PHOTOS

By Duane Cochran
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — The scenario Saturday afternoon on Senior Day for Fairmont State's men's basketball team in its regular-season finale against visiting Shepherd University was pretty simple.

Win and receive an automatic first-round bye in the upcoming Mountain East Conference Basketball Tournament. Lose and host a first-round game Tuesday night at the Joe Retton Arena.

While the scenario may have been simple, the execution of it was not, which was no surprise to the Falcons. After all, earlier this season it took overtime for FSU to top Shepherd, 90-85.

Yesterday, the Falcons didn't need the extra five minutes, but it took all 40 minutes of regulation for them to eke out a 74-72 victory over the Rams and earn a spot in Friday's MEC Tournament quarterfinals at the Charleston Civic Center against the winner of Tuesday night's game between No. 5 West Virginia Wesleyan and No. 12 Urbana.

“I told Coop (FSU senior Brendan Cooper) and the guys that we didn't have any time today to shed tears for it being Senior Day. We had to go out and win a basketball game to get a bye for the conference tournament and to have any hope of making the national tournament,” said FSU coach Jerrod Calhoun, whose team finished the regular-season 19-9 overall, 14-8 in the league and in fourth place in the 12-team conference. “We've still got work to do and more games to win if we want to have a chance at making the national tourney.

“We knew this one wasn't going to be easy. Shepherd's very good. It was a great game for the fans to watch. I

think people are starting to understand we play a pretty good brand of basketball in the MEC. We had four teams finish 14-8 in the league and I think this conference tournament is going to be very good.”

If Saturday's game between FSU and Shepherd is any indication Calhoun will be right on the mark. The contest was a war from the opening tip. Shepherd never led by more than three points, while the Falcons' largest lead was four and the outcome wasn't decided until Shepherd's Naim Muhammad missed a pair of free throws with one-tenth of a second remaining.

Cooper, FSU's 6-foot-7 senior forward, came up big for his team once again in the second half. He had just two points through the first 25 minutes and then exploded for 15 in the game's final 14:44 to finish with 17. He also posted his team-leading sixth double-double by pulling down a game-high 12 rebounds.

“In the first half they were doing a good job of zoning us and we were kind of stagnant and just passing the ball around the wings,” said Cooper. “In the second half coach told us we had to be more aggressive. He said we needed to get in the gaps of that zone and attack and that's what I tried to do.”

Chase Morgan led FSU off the bench with 18 points, 12 of which came in the first half against Shepherd's stingy zone. Morgan's 18-point performance allowed him to top the1,000-point mark (1,014) for his college career.

“The past couple of games I've been shooting the ball pretty well so I just wanted to keep it going off of that momentum today,” said Morgan. “When I got in I missed my first two shots, but they felt good. I just kept telling myself I've got to keep shooting and the next three or four fell for me and got us going and the crowd pumped up.

“We all really wanted to get this one for Coop. He's a big part of our Fairmont family and we definitely wanted it for him.”

When Shepherd turned its attention toward stopping Morgan's scoring chances Cooper and Stevie Browning stepped up for FSU. Browning, like Cooper, finished with 17 points.

“This was just a huge win for us,” said Browning. “We knew coming in it was going to be tough. We expected them to zone us and they did and we've been practicing hard for that. In the end, though, it's really not about the zone, but about us making shots. Chase made some big shots for us early, Coop stepped up big in the second half and I just tried to take advantage of my opportunities when they were there.”

Thomas Wimbush added 12 points for FSU.

Shepherd entered Saturday's game third in the MEC standings, but due to the loss to FSU and tiebreakers fell all the way to sixth place. The Rams, who are now 19-9 overall and 14-8 in the conference, were led by Brantley Osborne's 19 points. Kevin Jones added 17 points for Shepherd, Morgan McDonald chipped in 16 and Austin Cunningham finished with 11.

Shepherd will host a first-round MEC Tournament game Tuesday at 7 p.m. against No. 11 Concord.