By Duane Cochran
For the Times West Virginian
Jerrod Calhoun had a simple message for his Fairmont State University team at halftime of its game with visiting West Virginia State here Saturday afternoon at the Joe Retton Arena.
“Coach got on us at halftime about playing timid and not being aggressive,” said backup point guard Shammgod Wells, who helped key a big second-half turnaround for the Falcons in their 107-89 blowout win over the Yellow Jackets.
Wells, Stevie Browning, Thomas Wimbush, Ke’Chaun Lewis and company took that message to heart and turned a two-point halftime deficit into an 18-point victory.
“We came out with a lot more energy, did what we had to do and just had a complete turnaround from our performance in the first half,” said Browning, FSU’s sophomore guard who led all scorers with 23 points.
“It was a team effort, but Sham really stepped up and played big for us in that half. He was always putting pressure on the rim, and that’s what we needed.”
To help change the tempo of the game, Calhoun employed an aggressive, trapping full-court press which hounded the Yellow Jackets the entire second half and took them out of a lot of what they wanted to do on offense.
The key to the press was Wells, Fairmont’s cat-quick true freshman guard who was all over the floor on defense harassing State’s players and throwing off the timing of the Yellow Jackets’ offense.
On the other end, Wells continually attacked the rim for the Falcons and got buckets or free-throw attempts which he connected on, going 11-of-12 at the line.
“We had to switch it up,” said Calhoun. “The first half was absolutely miserable. We couldn’t get stops.
“Our kids are so young, but we’re getting them better. Shammgod was very, very good tonight. We’ve got to be able to mix things up as a team. We have to be able to play slow with Martins (Abele, FSU’s 7-foot senior center) when he’s in there, and then when he’s not and we fly around we’ve got to be able to push it in transition. I was very pleased with our effort in the second half.”
Leading 57-55 with 15:57 remaining, Wells went on a tear for FSU to help it take control of the game. He scored 15 of his 21 points during a span of 7:53 in the second half to help the Falcons extended their two-point lead to 17.
“In the first half I was going to the rim, but couldn’t find my touch,” said Wells. “Coach told me the reason we recruited you here was to get the ball to the basket and whether I make the layup or not I would at least give my teammates chances for a rebound. In the second half that what I did. I got to the rim and finished or got fouled and got to the line. I feel like every game that’s what I need to be doing, not just in the second half today. I need to always have that type of energy when I’m on the floor.”
While Wells and Browning helped FSU build its lead, Wimbush, a redshirt freshman guard/forward who has really upped his level of play since the hand injury to Brendan Cooper earlier this week, put the finishing touches on the victory, scoring 10 of his 21 points in the last 3:41 to keep State at bay.
“I fed off of Sham today,” said Wimbush, who has scored a combined 44 points in FSU’s last two outings. “Sham brought the energy, and I fed off it. When he brings it, it helps me and everyone else bring it.
“In the second half we got after them pretty hard defensively, forced some turnovers, and once we started doing that we just took it to them hard on offense by consistently attacking the rim.”
Cooper, FSU’s 6-7 senior guard/forward, is scheduled to have surgery on his injured left hand this week and according to Calhoun could likely be sidelined as many as six weeks with the injury.
“With Coop out we’ve got to have some other people step up for us and that starts with our sophomores Ke’Chaun Lewis and Stevie Browning,” said Calhoun. “I thought Ke’Chaun really played well for us today. He’s been battling an ankle injury, but he pushed it in transition today and played well.”
Lewis added 13 points in the victory for Fairmont, while Martins Abele finished with 10 and Caleb Davis added nine and seven assists.
State, which fell to 1-4 overall and to 0-4 in the Mountain East Conference, got 21 points off the bench from Angelo Sirianni. The Yellow Jackets also got 17 points from Dimitrios Jelen-Joy and 12 points apiece from both Dominic Phillips and Juan Johnson.
The victory improved the Falcons to 6-2 overall and to 2-2 in the MEC. FSU will be idle now until Monday, Dec. 16, when it hosts Ohio-Eastern University in a nonconference 7 p.m. game at the Joe Retton Arena.