Times West Virginian
With arguably its most important stretch of games this season looming on the horizon this week at the Joe Retton Arena Fairmont State’s men’s basketball team managed to stay focused and take care of business on the road Saturday evening here against West Virginia State at Fleming Hall.
FSU raced to a 10-2 lead less than three minutes into last night’s game and never looked back en route to an 87-70 victory over the Yellow Jackets.
“Losing last Monday at home to Wheeling was a wake-up call for us which we needed,” said FSU senior point guard Malik Stith, who led the Falcons Saturday with 15 points and a career-high nine assists. “Our focus needs to be sharp going into this week of games and the end of the season.
“For us it’s all about focus. We feel like we have one of the best teams in the country, but our focus has to be sharp every game no matter who we’re playing. It’s all business from here on out. We got a great road win tonight. It’s hard to beat a team twice in the same season.”
Fairmont’s focus was indeed sharp Saturday. The Falcons extended their 10-2 lead to as many as 20 late in the first half before settling for a 17-point, 49-32, lead at the break.
In the second half Fairmont again pushed the lead back to 20 before State made a nice run at the Falcons trimming the lead to just nine with 4:05 left to play.
FSU, however, led by Stith closed out the game on a 12-4 tear in the final 3:49 to seal their second win of the year over the Yellow Jackets. Stith scored seven of the final 12 points for the Falcons, who improved to 16-5 overall and to 14-3 in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
As noted the Falcons have three huge games this week at home at the Joe Retton Arena. They entertain seventh-place Pitt-Johnstown (14-8, 11-8) Monday evening at 7:30, third-place Alderson-Broaddus (15-6, 13-4) Thursday night at 7:30 and league-leading and No. 3 ranked West Liberty (22-1, 16-1) Saturday at 4 p.m.
“I told our kids everything in life happens for a reason,” said first-year FSU coach Jerrod Calhoun. “There’s a reason I got the Fairmont State job and there’s a reason we’ve lost certain games this year. You have to learn from your mistakes and setbacks and hopefully move forward and I think we did that tonight. We have to play basketball games for 40 minutes. Nothing less. I hope our guys understand that now.
“Tonight I thought we played for a very, very long period of time extremely hard. That was pleasing to me. We played a lot of guys tonight too and I thought our bench did a great job of giving us good minutes. We’ve got four games in seven days, including three big-time games at home this week so we needed some guys to step up. I hope the community understands how big these games really are for us and comes out to support us. This week is going to be huge for our basketball team.”
Saturday Fairmont once again got a balanced attack to dispose of the Yellow Jackets. Stith led the way with 15 points. Isaac Thornton and Brendan Cooper added 14 points apiece, Chase Morgan finished with 12 and Isaiah Hill contributed 11 points and nine rebounds. Cooper scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half. The Falcons shot nearly 52 percent from the field for the game (31-of-60) and had 23 assists on their 31 field goals.
“I think we’re one of the more balanced teams in the league which is great to have,” said Calhoun. “Chase got the start for us tonight because Stevie (Browning) has been having some migraines, but he’s okay. They both played well for us tonight. Really, everybody did.
“Now we’ve got to get ready for a very good UPJ team Monday. They have one of the top point guards in both the league and country in Nick Novak and they’re very good and very well coached.”
FSU will tangle with UPJ, a team the Falcons defeated 85-81 way back at the end of November, Monday at 7:30 p.m.
State, meanwhile, fell to 9-14 overall and to 6-11 in the league with Saturday’s loss. The Yellow Jackets were led by Anton Hutchins’ game-high 22 points. The only other State player to reach double figures was Juan Johnson, who finished with 10 points.