Times West Virginian
GREENSBURG, Pa. —
One day after the first NCAA Division II Regional Rankings were announced and Fairmont State’s men’s basketball team learned that it was third in those all-important ratings, the Falcons went out Thursday night and turned in one of their most dismal and pathetic performances of the season.
The result of the uninspired showing was a damaging 76-73 loss on the road to Seton Hill (Pa.) University at the McKenna Center.
Fairmont State had already locked up a second-place finish in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference standings, but it’s the regional rankings which determine whether or not teams receive post-season bids to the NCAA Division II Tournament. Now, Fairmont will almost certainly fall from the third spot which will cast some doubt on the Falcons’ postseason opportunities if teams not ranked among the top eight in the regional rankings happen to win the three upcoming conference tournaments which comprise the region.
In addition, Fairmont also squandered away its chance to record only the second 20-win regular season at the school in 11 years.
“It’s extremely disappointing to me for us not to be ready to play on the road,” said first-year FSU coach Jerrod Calhoun. “I don’t know. We’ve been very good on the road all year. We were 10-2 in road games coming into this one so it comes as a big shock to me that we weren’t ready to go.
“We need to have a good, hard practice Friday to get ready for Ohio Valley and Senior Day Saturday and then we need a couple of more good practices to get ready for the league tournament because tonight we passed up a huge opportunity to stay at the No. 3 slot in the region. Now, some other teams in the region lost last night, but we need to quit worrying about that. Our guys were excited to be third, but obviously it didn’t have a great effect for us tonight.”
If anything it had a negative effect. The Falcons looked lifeless and uninspired from the opening tip and as a result found themselves trailing 42-27 at the half to the obviously dangerous Griffins, who were playing for a first-round home game in the league tournament which begins Tuesday at home sites.
“We played a lot of different people early in the first half to try to see who had energy and who wanted to play and obviously not too many of our guys did,” said Calhoun.
In the second half it took Fairmont 10 minutes to get the lead from 15 to 10 points. Then finally around the seven-minute mark the Falcons began to awake from their slumber. Trailing 63-52, FSU’s Malik Stith and Brendan Cooper helped key a 13-3 run in a span of just under four minutes which cut the Griffins’ lead to just one at 66-65 with 3:13 remaining. But on this night, Fairmont State couldn’t find a way to rally for a victory. Seton Hill connected on 10-of-12 free throws in the game’s final 2:49 to keep FSU at bay.
“We really played well in the first half tonight,” said veteran Seton Hill coach Tony Morocco. “I thought we executed well. Our defense was tremendous and our rebounding was terrific.
“I knew Fairmont would make a run. They’re quick, athletic and they’re a mature group. They’re a very good basketball team. They’re third in our region and they’ve won some big games. Our kids, though, did an extremely good job of keeping their composure. We got a little rattled, but we played well enough at the end and made enough foul shots to hold them off.”
The Falcons did have a chance to force overtime in the final nine seconds but 3-point field goal attempts from Isaac Thornton and Stith were both off of the mark.
Stith finished with a game-high 27 points to lead the Falcons. Thornton, who had 44 points in Saturday’s loss to nationally-ranked West Liberty, and Cooper were limited to just 12 points apiece. Cooper also pulled down a game-high 13 rebounds. No other Falcon player, however, reached double figures in scoring.
Seton Hill, which vaulted into the seventh spot in the league standings thanks to last night’s win, was led by Max Kenyi and Malachi Leonard, who both finished with 17 points. The Griffins (14-11, 11-10) also got 11 points from Lenjo Kilo.
FSU will wrap up regular-season play Saturday when it hosts Ohio Valley on Senior Day at the Joe Retton Arena at 4 p.m.