By Jarrod Harris
Times West Virginian
Opening day whipping.
Fairmont State University’s men’s basketball team completely leveled Ohio-Eastern on Saturday evening at Joe Retton Arena, 127-71.
This win completed a successful day from the opening national anthem sung by Joe Manchin IV to the honoring of legendary coach Joe Retton and then a 56-point victory that gave Jerrod Calhoun his first victory as an NCAA men’s basketball head coach.
“It was a great crowd and a great tribute to Coach Retton,” said Calhoun. “We had a lot of former Fairmont State players at hand for this contest, which is huge. One of the biggest things that I learned from coach (Bob) Huggins is tradition. At Cincinnati when I was with him, and also at West Virginia, all the former players came back and we reached out to a lot of guys. That’s what we want to do here.”
With this being the very first game of the 2012-2013 season for the Falcon basketball team, both Calhoun and his players felt like they had something to prove.
“We wanted to come out and score points,” said FSU standout Brendan Cooper. “We liked the atmosphere today with all the fan support, and we felt like we needed to give them something good to watch.”
That they did — right from the beginning. The crowd blinked and FSU was already up 18-8.
With a lead growing what does Cooper do?
Senior point guard Malik Stith tossed the basketball toward the rim, and Cooper came from nowhere, while completeing the alley-oop.
Here the crowd went wild, and so did the Falcons.
“When I get an open lane, I’m going to get up and finish at the rim,” Cooper jokingly stated. “I like trying to the crowd involved too, because I think that helps our whole team — it gets them going. When the crowd is making noise, it just give us so much energy.”
From there, FSU opened the floodgates.
Cooper drilled a 3-pointer; Tommy Scales made two free throws — then completed a behind the back layup.
Before they knew it, the Falcons up 34-17.
“We want them to shoot,” said Calhoun. “We want to get them out in transition. We got up and down the court and shot a lot of threes.”
With 3:42 remaining in just the first half, Cooper was removed from the game with 18 points to his already impressive game.
At half FSU was winning 55-28.
“We played well in the first half, but we weren’t as good on the defensive side of the ball,” said Cooper. “Ohio-Eastern didn’t win many games last year, so we needed to step up our defensive game.”
From the start of the second half, Isaiah Hill opened with a smooth transition towards the basket that led to yet another Falcon two-pointer.
FSU then went onto a 23-7 run that was led by freshman Ke’Chaun Lewis of Columbus.
The 6-3 guard jumped out of Joe Retton Arena and halfway onto Lucas Avenue when his teammate Ty Garrison tossed an alley-oop that went down with force.
Completing the “oop,” Stevie Browning completed a series of two pointers, followed by a few threes.
“Steve Browning is a good shooter,” said Calhoun. “When Malik breaks down and kicks it to him, and he’s stepping into the pass, he’s as good as there is in the country. Both him and Chase (Morgan) can really make shots. We’ve got a lot of guys who can shoot the ball.”
The Falcons were so enriched in the game, that at 8:03, they capped 100 points on a free throw by Joey Vuyancih.
The Falcons were able to score 27 additional point throughout the rest of the game, while giving them the game, set and match — 127-71.
“I didn’t think we played very good,” Calhoun stated. “We took way too many possessions off. We’re playing a very good team in Virginia State on Tuesday. If we play like we did, we’ll lose the game.”
Calhoun continues, “They drove the ball past us. We just gave up too much dribble penetration. That’s something that we have to work on. Virginia State has good guards. They have three Division I transfers; they have two big kids who are 6-8, 250. We were tuning this one up to get ready for them. That’s our first road game and a game that we need to win.”
Although the Falcons did allow 71 points, their shooting percentage was an impressive 53-102 for 52 percent.
But, many of those extra shots were during the last five minutes when the third team was playing.
As for Browing, he was 9-for-12 (75 percent) shooting for 20 points; Cooper was 11-18 for 26 points, three assists, three steals and nine rebounds.
“(Cooper) is a very talented kid,” said Calhoun. “He’s still trying to figure it out. He’s 6-7, and he creates a lot of mismatches; he can play the three (small forward); he can play the four (power forward). He’s very very good off the bounce. He can hit the three, and he has a good range jumper. He’s going to be a good player.”
The Falcons play at Virginia State beginning at 6 p.m. on Tuesday.
“Our chemistry isn’t all the way there yet,” Cooper stated. “We’re all new, but as the season progresses, we’re going to get used to each other, and it will go more smoothly.”
Isaac Thornton, FSU’s top returning player, did not play.
Email Jarrod Harris at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @JarrodHarrisTWV.