The Times West Virginian

March 8, 2014

Cooper leads FSU past Bobcats, 70-62

Falcons to face 'Toppers in tournament semifinals

By Duane Cochran
Times West Virginian

CHARLESTON — Brendan Cooper played liked a first-team all-league selection even though he strangely wasn't, and Chase Morgan did what he does best in the game's final 1:18 – hit shots.

The result was a 70-62 Fairmont State victory over fifth-seeded West Virginia Wesleyan Friday evening in the quarterfinals of the Mountain East Conference Men's Basketball Tournament at the Charleston Civic Center.

The victory improved the fourth-seeded Falcons to 20-9 on the year and puts them in Saturday's semifinals against top-seeded and No. 3 ranked West Liberty (24-2) at 8:15 p.m. The other men's semifinal at 6 p.m. will feature second-seeded Charleston (20-8) against third-seeded Glenville State (19-9).

Cooper, a 6-foot-7 senior forward who was a second-team All-MEC pick, played like a man possessed Friday night and dominated the game with a near-triple-double performance. He scored a game-high 21 points, grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds and also dished out a game-high seven assists.

“I'll tell you this: I'm glad he's leaving this league after this year,” said Wesleyan coach Patrick Beilein. “When you look at his stats in games against us the past two years, they're unreal.”

Cooper's aggressive play helped FSU wipe out a three-point halftime deficit and open a 61-52 lead with five minutes remaining.

“Coach always gets on us about being aggressive and getting the ball to the rim,” said Cooper. “We're athletic and tall and he wants us to take advantage of that by attacking the basket, getting good shots and rebounding the ball. That's all we were trying to do.”

Despite the nine-point deficit, the pesky Bobcats didn't go away easy. Wesleyan canned a pair of 3-point field goals around a layup and quickly cut the Falcons' lead to just one at 61-60 with 2:45 left to play.

In the final 2:45, though, FSU proved to be dominate outscoring the Bobcats 9-2 en route to the win. The catalyst for Fairmont during that crucial final run was Morgan, who gathered in a huge offensive rebound in the corner off of a missed Cooper 3-pointer with 1:41 remaining to give his team another possession with a 63-60 lead. Morgan then came off of a double screen on the wing and buried a crucial 3-pointer to give FSU a 66-60 lead with 1:18 remaining.

“We drew that play up coming out of a timeout and when the pass was swung to me I knew I had to shoot with confidence,” said Morgan. “I had missed some shots in the first half, but that one felt good and thankfully it went in.”

Morgan, who finished with 10 points, then sealed the win for Fairmont by going a perfect 4-of-4 at the foul line in the game's last 53 seconds.

“We know this is Coop's last go-round with us and tonight we came together as a family and as a unit when the game was on the line and got it done,” said Morgan.

Thomas Wimbush added 14 points and five rebounds for Fairmont State, while Stevie Browning chipped in 11 points and six boards. The Falcons also got eight points from Trevor Andrews-Evans – all of which came in the second half before he fouled out with 2:11 to play.

Wesleyan, which finished the season 20-12, was led by Brett Ervin's 16 points, 12 of which came off of 3-point field goals. The Bobcats also got 14 points from Tanner McGrew and 12 from T.J. Thompson.

Saturday's semifinal round matchup between FSU and West Liberty will be the third meeting of the season between the two teams. The Hilltoppers won 77-60 on Jan. 18 in West Liberty, while the Falcons claimed a 93-81 win on Feb. 15 in Fairmont.

“We know West Liberty is going to be the heavy favorite, but we're not going to back down,” said FSU coach Jerrod Calhoun. “I think it's going to be a heckuva game.”