The Times West Virginian

March 1, 2014

FSU looks to close regular season with win

By Matt Welch
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — Fairmont State University’s men’s basketball team closed practice on Thursday the way it hopes to close out the regular season today at home against Shepherd at 4 p.m., directly following the women’s contest at 2 p.m.

Sophomore guard Stevie Browning went head-to-head with graduate student assistant coach Sidney Crist in a 3-point shootout. If Crist made his shots, the team ran; if Browning made his, Crist ran. Browning made both of his while Crist missed both, sending him to the line.

If the Falcons were going head-to-head with Shepherd in this drill, they’d be up 1-0. Now, they’re looking to send Shepherd to the baseline to run.

LAST TIME OUT: It took overtime, but the last time these two teams squared off, Fairmont State won, 90-85 on the road. It was Browning who led the charge with 26 points and nine rebounds in regulation. The Falcon defense held Shepherd’s top player, Brantley Osborne, to just nine points and outrebounded the Rams, 50-26.

SENIOR DAY: Today’s game marks the end of a chapter for Brendan Cooper and Martins Abele. Both players have spent limited time with the Falcons, Cooper coming as a JUCO player and Abele coming from Division I. FSU coach Jerrod Calhoun, though, says it’ll be a bittersweet day.

“It's kind of sad that you only get two years with junior college players, but you know that going in. He's had a major impact on this program in the last two years,” Calhoun said of Cooper. “You look at what he did last year, getting us into the NCAA Tournament, being part of that great turnaround season and really kicking this program off.

“Year two, he gets injured and misses nine games. When he comes back, we’re such a better basketball team with him on the floor because of his passing ability, his rebounding ability, and I'm really going to miss him. But we're hoping that this isn’t it. I'm hoping he has six or seven more games and we make a run in the conference tournament, in the NCAA Tournament. “

And for Abele, a concussion will likely keep the 7-foot center out for the remainder of the season, Calhoun said.

The seniors leaving, though, will take a back seat to the importance of the game.

“You hate to see your seniors leave. Last year we had seven seniors leave. But you don't have time to get emotional,” the coach said. “I told Coop, we need this win. So he and I can cry and talk about memories later on. You know, sometimes you get caught up on Senior Day festivities, but we need this win so bad.”

SIXTH MAN: While a promotion is offering tickets for $1 if fans bring a canned food or personal care item to Joe Retton Arena, Calhoun wants a packed house.

When the Falcons beat then No. 3 West Liberty at home, a crowd of 1,426 fans took part in the victory. Calhoun likened the atmosphere to some Division I schools’ games and expects no different today.

“Our student section has really grown. Any time you win and there's a  good product it's exciting,” he said. “Our kids feed off the excitement and the atmosphere. That West Liberty atmosphere was as good as any mid-major college basketball atmosphere.

“And the stakes are even higher. Yeah, they're not the No. 3 team in the country, but they’re very, very good, and this win is very, very important to our basketball program in order to make the postseason. So we're hoping they come out and do the same thing they do against West Liberty.”

TOURNAMENT PUSH: When the second batch of regional rankings came out earlier this week, Fairmont State sat at ninth in the Atlantic Region, just one spot away from making the NCAA Tournament. In order to move up, the Falcons face a must-win against Shepherd today coupled with a strong Mountain East Conference Tournament run.

“You’ve got to win games,” Calhoun said. “It may come down to a conference tournament run or a game or two. But I like where we’re sitting. We're right there knocking on the door.

“To start four freshman and a sophomore and have a chance down the stretch, I think that’s all you can ask.”

CALHOUN’S KEYS TO THE GAME: Looking at the matchup with Shepherd, Calhoun said there are things that his team must accomplish to win the game. First, they must shut down Shepherd’s guards. Second, the Falcons must win the transition game. Third, FSU must win in the rebounding column. Fourth, they must limit their turnovers. And last, but certainly not least, they must pack Joe Retton Arena with fans.

Email Matt Welch at mwelch@timeswv.com or follow on Twitter @MattWelch_TWV.