By Duane Cochran
For the Times West Virginian
Coming off a nine-day break which included final-exam week, Fairmont State University’s men’s basketball team needed a tune-up for Thursday night’s showdown with the nation’s No. 2-ranked team. Bellarmine (Ky.) University, which will invade the Joe Retton Arena for a 6 p.m. showdown.
The Falcons got that tune-up Monday evening when they rolled to a 114-48 victory over out-manned Ohio-Eastern at home.
“Tonight was really about getting Otar (Pkhakadze) and Tommy Scales back and getting them some game experience,” said FSU coach Jerrod Calhoun, who watched his squad easily improve to 7-2 on the year. “They’re going to give us a few more bodies, although we possibly lost Ke’Chaun (Lewis) tonight to an injury. He’s at the hospital and we’re waiting for a final word on him.
“We knew our opponent wasn’t that strong, so tonight was more about us. We were off for nine days, so we really needed to focus in, get up and down the floor, get rebounds and get tuned up for a great Bellarmine team coming in here Thursday night.
“I don’t know if the people of Fairmont understand the history of this program (Bellarmine) and how good it is. I hope the community comes out and packs this place Thursday. How often do you have the No. 2 team in the country on your floor for a home game? It’s a great opportunity not only for our program, but for our fans to see a top-notch game.”
Lewis, FSU’s sophomore guard, suffered an apparent dislocated elbow driving to the rim for a bucket Monday when he was fouled by Ohio-Eastern’s Paul Demarchi with 13:25 left in the opening half. It’s likely he’ll be sidelined for a few weeks.
Other than Lewis’ injury, the news Monday night for Fairmont was all good. FSU raced to a 28-point led less than 11 minutes into the game and never looked back en route to the 66-point victory. All 13 FSU players who played in the contest last night scored. Sophomore guard Stevie Browning’s led five Falcons in double figures with 17 points.
“We came out and did what we had to do tonight,” said Browning. “Coach gave us goals, and we met all of those. Now we’ve got to get ready for Thursday.”
Joining Browning in double figures were sophomore guard Chris Lewis, who came off the bench and poured in a career-high 15 points; freshman guard Shammgod Wells, who turned in a double-double performance with 11 points and a career-high 12 assists; and Pkhakadze and Caleb Davis, who both finished with 10 points apiece.
For Pkhakadze, a 6-2 redshirt freshman guard from Kutaiai, Georgia, who has been in FSU’s program for a year-and-a-half waiting to get eligible, finally getting on the floor and having a chance to play meant a lot.
“It was real tough for a year-and-a-half to sit and watch,” said Pkhakadze. “This year the games we lost I feel like I could’ve helped the team and with guys out with injuries I feel like I could’ve helped, but now to finally have the chance to be out there felt amazing. Wearing this uniform means a lot. I’ve waited a year-and-a-half for this moment.
“Ke’Chaun plays a big role on this team and with him down now other people like myself, Chase, Stevie and others are going to have to pick up the slack.”
Besides Pkhakadze another player who waited for a long time and put in a lot of hard work to get on the floor was Lewis. Last night his efforts were rewarded. The sophomore guard from Haymarket, Va., who served as the Falcons’ manager last season, got a chance to walk on to the squad this fall and made it. In Monday’s win he went 6-of-10 from the field, including 3-of-5 from 3-point range, and finished with a college career-high of 15 points.
“It was unbelievable for me,” said Lewis. “I have put in a lot of hard work. I kind of feel like I paid my dues last year. I couldn’t play last year, and coach asked me if I wanted to stay on and be the manager, and I said I’d do anything to be a part of the team. I learned a lot last year from doing that and from guys like Malik Stith and Isaac Thornton. This fall coach gave me the opportunity to try out and walk on, and I made it.
“Tonight I admit I was pretty nervous. My first shot, I clanked it. After that I saw the first one go in, and then everything just started coming. I settled down and played. I was pretty happy. Tonight was a lot of fun.”
It was fun too for Calhoun and Browning to see their former manager contribute in a big way to the victory.
“I couldn’t be happier for Chris,” said Browning. “I have so much respect for him. He works so hard every day to get better and make us better. Tonight he got a chance and took advantage of it. I’m proud of him.”
“Chris is probably our favorite guy on the team,” said Calhoun. “He brings it every day and works his tail off, and our guys on the team couldn’t be happier for him. He was our manager last year and filmed every game for us. He just kept bugging me and bugging me about wanting to walk on. This year we gave him the chance, and he’s just a great kid who works extremely hard. I’m happy for him.”
Ohio-Eastern, which fell to 2-7 with the loss, was without leading scorer Devin Ward, who averages over 30 points a game. The Panthers were led last night by Darrick Phillips and Paul Demarchi, who finished with 10 points apiece.
As noted, FSU returns to action Thursday when it hosts 7-0 Bellarmine at 6 p.m.