By Duane Cochran
Times West Virginian
Shepherd’s early-season blueprint for success has been a relatively simple one. Attack the basket with dribble penetration and either get easy shots or fouled.
Tuesday evening the Rams, who have attempted more free throws than any other school in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference this season, followed that blueprint to a T against Fairmont State at the Joe Retton Arena in the league opener for both schools and as a result knocked off the Falcons, 93-90.
The Rams shot 48.3 percent from the field (29-of-60) in the win and made a whopping 38 trips to the foul line where they connected on 29 shots (76.3 percent). FSU by comparison shot 48 percent from the floor for the game (36-of-75), but made just 18 appearances on the foul line and connected on 13.
“When you let a team get to the line 38 times and I think they made 29 you’re not going to beat them,” said FSU coach Jerrod Calhoun. “We just foul. We don’t guard. We went doubles. We had two-a-days like football practice. I don’t know. It’s a mentality. You’ve got to keep a guy in front of you and guard him. We put ourselves in holes and try to come back at the end, but right now we’re just not getting it done.”
The loss was the second in a row for the Falcons, who were picked to finish third in powerful WVIAC behind West Liberty, the nation’s No. 1 team and the University of Charleston. FSU is now 2-2 overall and 0-1 in the league.
Shepherd, on the other hand, improved to 3-1 overall and to 1-0 in the conference.
“The good thing is its not football where you only have 10 games, but the reality is we’re putting ourselves in a bigger hole every time we lose,” said Calhoun. “I think
four teams from our conference went to the NCAA Tournament last year and all four of those teams had 20-plus wins. Each game you lose it’s a step away from you.
“I told the guys afterwards when I was at Walsh and we won the (2005 NAIA) National Championship we were 7-5 at one point in the season believe it or not and we ended up winning 20 some games in a row to win the championship so we’re certainly not giving up, but we’re certainly disappointed that we continue to give up 80 or 90 points at home. It seems like the whole conference everybody lets everybody score and I thought we would be different, but evidently we’re not. We’ve got to get back to the drawing board and hopefully we can get better defensively.”
FSU junior forward Brendan Cooper returned from a two-game absence due to a back injury and was in fine form Tuesday night. He finished with a game-high 36 points and eight rebounds, but his efforts quite simply weren’t enough as the Falcons could never slow down the Rams.
“We missed some rotations on defense and we fouled a lot tonight and they hit their free throws and put us away at the end of the game,” said Cooper. “We have to sit down and guard the ball. We get beat off of the dribble too much and that can’t happen.”
Fairmont, which led 49-45 at the break, extended its lead to seven at 56-49 in the first four minutes of the second half but couldn’t put the Rams away. Instead, Shepherd rallied back thanks to 3-pointers, numerous layups and made free throws and led FSU by seven at 90-83 with 1:13 left to play.
Fairmont point guard Malik Stith got the Falcons back within two at 90-88 with 38 seconds left after he buried a three and converted on a coast-to-coast layup. FSU then forced a turnover on Shepherd’s next possession but Isaac Thornton’s 3-pointer from the corner with 22 seconds left, which would’ve given the Falcons the lead, was off the mark and the Rams cleared the board.
On the other end Shepherd’s Chad Moore, who was held to just 14 points — 12 below his season average — converted on one-of-two free throws to make it 91-88 with 15.6 seconds remaining. On FSU’s next possession Stith attacked the rim and got fouled. He made both free throws to make it 91-90 with 9.8 seconds left to play.
The Rams, though, got a run out on the inbounds play and Brantley Osborne converted on a layup under heavy defensive pressure with 6.8 seconds remaining. On Fairmont’s final possession Stith got a good look at a three from the left wing with 2.6 seconds left but his shot rolled off the rim and Shepherd held on for the win.
“We cut it to one on my free throws, but they got a bomb on us and made a layup,” said Stith, who finished with 20 points. “In my head I knew we were down three and had to score to try to tie it and send it to overtime. I looked at the clock and there were about five seconds left. I knew I had time to get it up the court and get a good look which I did. It was the same shot and same location that I made one last game, but it just didn’t fall.
“We can’t depend on late-game heroics, though. We should’ve played better. We really stressed defense after our last loss. We’ve got to do something. We’ve got to get better on that end of the floor as a team in order to win ball games.”
Thornton added 14 points for the Falcons who will be idle now until Tuesday, Nov. 27 when they visit Pitt-Johnstown for a league game.
Osborne led five Rams in double figures with 17 points. Sidney McCray added 15, Moore finished with 14, Morgan McDonald chipped in 11 and Kevin Jones finished with 10.