By Duane Cochran
Times West Virginian
Fairmont State’s Lady Falcons learned a valuable lesson in their last outing — a 25-point loss to California (Pa.) University.
And they applied the lesson learned here Tuesday evening against visiting Shepherd University at the Joe Retton Arena in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference opener for both schools.
FSU took it to the Lady Rams from the opening tip and rolled to an 80-67 victory to halt a two-game losing streak and improve to 2-2 overall and 1-0 in the league.
“We had to come out tonight and play with a lot of energy simply because in our last game we got beat by 25 by Cal, Pa. and with the way they played we really got to see how that affected us,” said Lady Falcon senior point guard Kaitlin Snyder, who finished with a game-high 22 points and eight assists. “That’s what led us to come out and defend the basketball a lot better than we have in our three previous games this year.
“As a result, we got everyone involved tonight and that’s what a championship caliber team does. Coach Mac (Steve McDonald) stresses sharing the ball and playing together and we had a lot better take on that in this game.”
Fairmont’s inspired defense and transition offense helped the Lady Falcons open a pair of 18-point leads 13 minutes into the contest. FSU’s first-half advantage eventually ballooned to as many as 19 before a late Shepherd rally trimmed the margin to 44-31 at the half.
“We came out ready to play tonight and when we were making plays on defense that definitely helped us on offense,” said FSU senior guard Tiffany Nicholson, who despite being ill enjoyed her best outing of the season with 16 points, six rebounds and four assists. “We moved the ball on offense to the next open person. We hadn’t been doing that in the first few games.
“In our first couple of games we didn’t shoot the ball very well and I think that has a lot to do with the way we were playing defense. Tonight we played much better defense and as a result did much better offensively.”
In the second half, Shepherd followed Fairmont’s lead and played some tough, gritty defense themselves to get back into the contest. The Lady Rams scored the first six points of the final half to close to within 44-37 before Fairmont got its offense going again and re-established a 12-point, 60-48 lead on a driving layup by Kendra Holmes with 9:46 remaining.
But Shepherd had one more run in it. The Lady Rams reeled off nine unanswered points to close within three with 7:50 left to play. However, Fairmont had an answer for the run. The Lady Falcons got buckets or free throws from five different players on their own 12-2 spurt over the course of the next 4:33 to re-establish a 13-point advantage and seal the victory.
“I think we played with a great deal of intensity tonight and I think we played extremely hard,” said FSU coach Steve McDonald. “All basketball games are going to ebb and flow. You’re not going to dominate a good basketball program like Shepherd from start to finish.
“What I was most pleased with after the start of the game was when Shepherd cut it to three there in the second half we pushed back again and got another double-digit lead on them. That’s huge for us. More important, though, than all of that is I thought for the first time all year we looked like a basketball team tonight.”
Snyder and Nicholson were joined in double figures by Hailey Garrett, who finished with 13 points and seven rebounds and Hallie Gunnoe, who chipped in a career-high 10 points and five boards. FSU also got seven points and six rebounds from Emily Lohr and six points and a team-high eight rebounds from Holmes.
Shepherd, which dropped to 1-2 overall and to 0-1 in the league with the loss, was led by Emily Daniel’s 18 points and 10 rebounds. The Lady Rams also got 16 points from Rachel Johnson and 14 from Alex Tamez.
Fairmont State will be idle now until Thursday, Nov. 29 when it visits Pitt-Johnstown for a 5:30 p.m. league game.