By Duane Cochran
Times West Virginian
The performance of Tiffany Nicholson and her Fairmont State University women’s basketball teammates left a lot to be desired here Saturday afternoon in the first half against visiting Virginia-Wise at the Joe Retton Arena.
“Yeah, it wasn’t good,” said Nicholson, who was just 1-of-6 from the field shooting, including 0-of-3 from 3-point range in the opening half. “I played bad.”
Nicholson, though, certainly wasn’t the only Fairmont player who struggled in the first 20 minutes against the Cavaliers. In fact, most of the Lady Falcons did. FSU shot just 33.3 percent from the field (11-of-33) as a team, turned the ball over nine times and played shoddy defense at best.
As a result, Virginia-Wise led 31-23 at the break.
The second half for Nicholson and the Lady Falcons, however, was a different story. The senior guard found her shooting touch scoring 15 of her team-high 17 points in the final half and combined with sophomore center Hailey Garrett and senior point guard Kaitlin Snyder to lead FSU (5-2) to its fourth straight victory, 57-51, over the somewhat stunned Cavaliers, who saw their own four-game winning streak halted with the loss and fell to 5-8 on the year.
“I don’t like losing,” said Nicholson, who was 6-of-8 from the field shooting in the second half, including a 3-of-4 performance from long range. “I hit an early shot and it just kind of went from there. I was hitting all kinds of shots in warmups for the second half and it just kind of transferred over to the game. I certainly didn’t do it in the first half.”
Nicholson, Snyder and Garrett combined for 20 of Fairmont’s first 22 points in the second half as the Lady Falcons opened the final 20 minutes on a 22-10 run to take control of the game for good. No less than 10 of those 22 points belonged to Nicholson.
“Tiff is awesome,” said Garrett, who never came off of the floor in the win and posted her third straight double-double performance finishing with 15 points and a game-high 14 rebounds. “She always seems to make three-point shots when we need them and we needed some in the second half. She’s a great defensive player too. She got in a little foul trouble there in the second half but that’s because she plays so hard. She definitely sparked our team.”
Fairmont, though, could not put the gritty Cavaliers away until the very end. What Nicholson started Garrett then finished by going 4-of-4 at the foul line in the game’s final 14 seconds to seal the victory for the Lady Falcons.
FSU also went to a three-guard lineup for much of the second half which took Virginia-Wise out of its flow offensively. The Cavaliers, who shot 38.5 percent from the field in the opening half and drained six 3-pointers, shot just 30.4 percent in the final half (7-of-23) and made just 3-of-11 3-point attempts. Virginia-Wise also suffered 24 turnovers in the loss, including 15 in the second half.
“In the first half their No. 10 (Charlotte Reasor) was hitting a lot of threes for them so we knew we had to come out in the second half and play better defensively,” said Snyder, who finished with 16 points, seven rebounds, seven steals and four assists. “Tiffany stepped up and hit a lot of shots for us in the second half and Hailey rebounded super for us.
“In the second half we made a little adjustment where we went with three guards and that, I think, helped change the momentum for us. It changed the game.”
FSU head coach Steve McDonald agrees.
“We never give a game ball but I can’t say that anymore because I gave one out today and it went to (assistant) coach Jenna (Eckleberry) for recommending we go to that three-guard lineup,” said McDonald. “We have a (injury) situation at the four position and she made that recommendation and we did it. It was a difficult lineup for us to coach, but it was a great lineup to play against this particular team. We had to make some on-the-fly adjustments with that lineup, but that lineup got us the lead.
“What I really liked about this game is once we got the lead we never gave it back and that’s huge. That’s important for us. This was a good win for us against a streaking team that came in here on a four-game winning streak and playing very, very well.”
Virginia-Wise, which is one of the schools who will be joining the new Mountain East Conference along with Fairmont State next year, was led by Reasor’s 18 points, 12 of which came in the first half. The Cavaliers also got 14 points and nine rebounds from forward Chelsea Cluesman, who was held seven points below her season average of 21.5 by FSU’s defense.
The Lady Falcons will be idle now until Saturday, Dec. 15 when they return to West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference action in a 4 p.m. road game against the University of Charleston at the Eddie King Gymnasium.