Times West Virginian
Brendan Cooper’s three-point play with 45 seconds remaining gave Fairmont State the lead for good and ended any notions of a Davis & Elkins upset here Saturday afternoon in the King Coal Classic at Willie Akers Arena as the Falcons held off the Senators, 72-66.
The win, Fairmont’s third in a row and its eighth in nine outings, improved the Falcons to 13-4 overall and to 11-2 in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. It also allowed FSU to remain in second place in the 15-team league standings behind nationally-ranked West Liberty (17-1, 11-1).
D&E, which had upended third place Alderson-Broaddus 66-65 on Monday in Philippi and then pummeled West Virginia Wesleyan Thursday by 17 points, rallied from a seven-point halftime deficit Saturday to take a 64-63 lead over FSU on a driving jumper in the paint from Devin Miller with 1:09 left to play.
On the other end, however, Cooper, who finished with 14 points and five rebounds, took a feed from Stevie Browning and powered his way up for a layup which circled the hoop several times before falling through. He was fouled on the play by Igor Premasunac and made the free throw to give Fairmont the lead back for good at 66-64.
“Stevie had the ball on the opposite wing from me,” said Cooper of the play. “He drove baseline and I was waiting on the other side of the hoop. He passed it to me and I went up strong with the right hand, finished it and got the and one.”
On the Senators’ next possession D’Quan Lynch missed a runner in the paint and Cooper controlled the rebound for FSU and got the ball to Isaac Thornton, who was fouled with 18 seconds remaining. Thornton, who finished with a game-high 18 points, including a perfect 10-of-10 performance at the foul line, calmly made both free throws to give his team a much-needed four-point edge.
Thornton and Browning would combine for two more made free throws apiece in the final 10 seconds to seal the victory for Fairmont State. The Falcons connected on 19-of-22 free throws in the victory, including a 17-of-20 performance in the final half.
“Free throws are crucial,” said Thornton. “When you’re at the line with chances to score you’ve got to convert on them, especially in close games. In the second half we got to the line a lot as a team and for the most part we took advantage of those opportunities.”
FSU point guard Malik Stith and backup guard Chase Morgan joined Thornton and Cooper in double figures in the scoring column for the Falcons. Stith finished with 17 points, a game-high four steals and a team-high four assists, while Morgan chipped in 10 points.
D&E, which fell to 5-12 overall and to 4-9 in the WVIAC, was led by Miller and Lynch, who finished with 15 points apiece. All of Miller’s points came in the second half. The Senators also got 12 points and nine rebounds from Premasunac.
“I think Davis & Elkins is one of the most improved teams in the league,” said Fairmont State coach Jerrod Calhoun. “They were coming off of back-to-back impressive wins over Alderson-Broaddus and West Virginia Wesleyan. They went to Philippi and beat a very good A-B team and then they really put to Wesleyan Thursday night so we knew they were much improved and we were going to have our hands full today which we did.
“It was a tough game. Fortunately we made some plays down the stretch. I thought Coop’s and one was a huge play for us and Isaac really stepped up and got it done at the line for us, especially late in the game. Every game in this league is going to be tough. We’ve got nine more left and we’ve got another big one Thursday night when we come home to host Charleston.”
The Falcons will be idle until Thursday when they return to the Joe Retton Arena to host the University of Charleston in a 7:30 p.m. contest. FSU defeated UC on the road back in December, 71-61.