By Matt Welch
Times West Virginian
The start may have been rough, but it’s how you finish that counts.
Fairmont State head coach Jerrod Calhoun and his Fighting Falcons proved that statement to be true with a rallying 89-79 victory over Bowie State.
“That’s how we practice,” sophomore Stevie Browning said. “We practice hard, so obviously we’re going to play hard the whole game and not give up.”
In the final 1:30 stretch of the game, Fairmont State clamped down and made its shots when it mattered.
In that stretch, Bowie State went 0-for-6 from the floor while Fairmont State went a perfect 2-for-2 from the floor and 5-for-6 from the charity stripe.
“We just got it going and started feeling good,” Browning said of the late-game stops. “We started feeding off the crowd’s intensity and buckled down and got stops.”
Starting off that stretch came a shot from freshman point guard Caleb Davis from behind the arc.
Davis, along with freshman Tommy Wimbush, made big plays all day for the Falcons.
“For freshman, they made big plays. They’re not scared of the moment. Those guys are going to be all-league, hopefully All-American one day,” Calhoun said of their play.
Davis finished with 15 points, and Wimbush added 11 points and 7 rebounds.
To close out the first half, the Falcons cut the Bulldogs’ lead in half, making it 46-40 in favor of Bowie State at the break.
Bowie State, though, led for the better part of the game, with Fairmont State taking its first lead at the 13:19 mark of the second half off a beautiful behind-behind-the-back pass from Brendan Cooper to Ke’Chaun Lewis.
From there, it was a back-and-forth game until the very end.
“I spent the first half yelling and screaming trying to get them to play defense,” Calhoun said. “That was the message at halftime. Go out and play defense and get stops. That’s what we did at the end, and that’s why we won the game.”
On two separate occasions, the Falcons went up by seven points, but the Bulldogs wouldn’t let them break away.
“Bowie State is a good team,” Calhoun said. “Their bigs are good, and I thought (Ray) Gattling was good too.”
One of those bigs, Carlos Smith, is regarded as a top player, but the Falcons were able to shut him down. Smith finished with just eight points, two of which came off an alley-oop to start the game.
“Carlos is a good player,” Calhoun said. “We actually recruited him, so we know him pretty well and know his tendencies. I thought Thomas Wimbush did a tremendous job guarding him. And Coop, too.”
Cooper, who had foul trouble early in the second half, registered a double-double and kept the Falcons going offensively, said Calhoun.
“I had confidence in my team,” Cooper said of having to come out due to fouls. “Next time I have to stay out of foul trouble so I can help my team out.”
Despite missing some time, Cooper still managed to finish with 16 points and 12 rebounds. Browning finished with 21 points to lead the team.
The win puts the Falcons at 1-0 to start their season and it came against a quality opponent, at that.
“Coach Calhoun set up a super hard schedule for us because we want to make the tournament,” Cooper said. “It just means we have to come to play every game.”
Fairmont State is back in action again today at 4 p.m. as they take on Virginia State at home at Joe Retton Arena.
Email Matt Welch at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @MattWelch_TWV.