By Duane Cochran
Times West Virginian
In its biggest game of the season to date Fairmont State suffered its worst performance.
Fifth-seeded FSU shot a season-low 29.5 percent from the field (18-of-61), including a dismal 8-of-33 showing (24.2 percent) in the second half and as a result fell, 71-59, to fourth-seeded West Virginia State in the quarterfinals of the first Mountain East Conference Women's Basketball Tournament here Thursday night at the Charleston Civic Center.
“We absolutely couldn't buy a basket,” said FSU sophomore point guard Makenzie White, who led the Lady Falcons with 16 points, but was just 6-of-15 from the field and 3-of-10 at the foul line. “You're going to have nights like that, but unfortunately for us it came at tournament time.”
The loss drops Fairmont State to 18-10 on the season. The Lady Falcons, who were ranked eighth in the latest NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional Rankings, still have an outside shot to earn a bid to the national tournament. Those chances, however, are slim.
“I thought we played hard and I thought we played with a lot of heart, but we went through a stretch of a whole bunch of minutes there in the second half when we could not make a shot,” said FSU coach Steve McDonald. “When that happens, it's extremely difficult to keep defending at a high level.
“The sad thing is, and I don't want to take anything away from West Virginia State because I thought they played extremely well, but we had a lot of open-look shots and missed them.”
The victory, the third in a row by State over Fairmont this season, improved the Lady Yellow Jackets to 19-10 overall and puts them in Saturday's semifinals against top-seeded Glenville State at 2:15 p.m.
Saturday's other women's semifinal at noon will feature second-seeded West Liberty against third-seeded Charleston.
Each of State's first two wins over Fairmont this season were close ones. So close in fact that a total of four points decided them. Last night in the first half it was shaping up to be another barn burner between the two teams. During the first 20 minutes the contest featured eight ties and 11 lead changes before the dust settled and State held a 36-32 lead at the break.
The game remained close until the 12-minute mark when Fairmont went cold from the field and State took advantage of the Lady Falcons' misfortune and opened an 11-point advantage at 60-49 with 5:06 to play. During that seven-minute span the Lady Yellow Jackets outscored FSU, 11-3.
“I think the biggest thing for us is we competed and played hard tonight for 40 minutes,” said State head coach David Smith. “We just kept competing and coming at them.
“I think they (FSU) may be the best shooting team in the league and tonight they shot like 29 percent from the field and 11 percent from 3-point range (2-of-17) which is really uncharacteristic of them. Maybe the fact that they've played something like six games in 13 days and had to play an opening-round game while we had a bye and got some extra rest may have been a factor. They looked a little tired.”
FSU got back within eight at 60-52 on a Hallie Gunnoe layup with 3:57 to play and had a chance to cut the margin more but couldn't capitalize on it.
“I felt like we shared the ball pretty well tonight, but our shots weren't going for us,” said Gunnoe, who finished with 15 points and was one of the few FSU players who did shoot the ball well in the loss (7-of-10 from the field). “It was frustrating.”
Hailey Garrett added 10 points for Fairmont, while Emily Lohr finished with eight.
FSU also struggled at the free throw line going just 21-of-32 (65.6 percent).
State, which shot 46.6 percent from the field (27-of-58), got a game-high 24 points from MEC Player of the Year Lexy Carson. Asia Greenleaf added 13 points and eight rebounds, while India Taste chipped in nine points and grabbed seven boards.