By Duane Cochran
Times West Virginian
So far in the early going Fairmont State’s Lady Falcons have looked like anything but the preseason No. 1 team in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
Yet six games into the season FSU finds itself 4-2 overall and unbeaten at 3-0 in league play.
Saturday afternoon, Fairmont overcame another poor shooting performance from both the field and free throw line and overall sloppy play on both ends of the floor to topple visiting Bluefield State, 81-69, in a WVIAC contest at the Joe Retton Arena.
FSU connected on just 24-of-63 field goal attempts (38.1 percent) and missed a plethora of layups in the game. The Lady Falcons, who historically have been a good free throw shooting team, also struggled at the line Saturday. Fairmont made a whopping 44 trips to the charity stripe yesterday, but converted on just 30 of them, including a dismal 15-of-26 performance (57.7 percent) in the second half.
“This is the best team coach (J.J.) Oliver has had at Bluefield,” said FSU coach Steve McDonald. “They’re a talented team, which is playing under control and they play extremely hard. And, as you saw today — they don’t give up.
“If you put a different name on their jersey lots of people would be coming up to us right now and telling us great win, but because people don’t think Bluefield State is one of the best teams in the league then it’s ‘Oh you struggled today.’ We struggled some, but that’s because they’re pretty good. They’re going to win lots of games this year in the league.”
Less than two minutes into the contest Fairmont found itself trailing 10-2. However, instead of panicking the Lady Falcons regrouped and led by Hailey Garrett and Tiffany Nicholson turned the early eight-point deficit into a 14-point, 46-32, halftime lead.
“I think a key for us today was where maybe I personally or some other players may have lacked at times we had teammates who picked us up and played well,” said Garrett, who posted her second straight double-double finishing with 18 points, 10 rebounds, four steals and four assists. “I’m very proud of Hanna (Gunnoe) for the way she played today. She came in when Emily went down and we really didn’t miss a beat. We still were able to run our plays with her. She rebounded, scored, defended and really provided a spark for us.
“Bri (Briana Welch) did too. She’s a good offensive rebounder and she’s very good at driving the ball to the rim which she did a couple of times for us today.”
Two minutes and 20 seconds into the contest FSU sophomore starting forward Emily Lohr tweaked her right knee after a put-back basket and with junior forward Kendra Holmes out nursing a shoulder injury, redshirt freshman forward Hanna Gunnoe got forced into action and responded quite well. Gunnoe finished with a career-high 11 points and eight rebounds in the victory for Fairmont. She also had a pair of steals and two assists.
“I definitely wasn’t expecting that, but with Kendra out I’ve been practicing more and you just never know when you’re going to be called upon to play,” said Gunnoe. “I try to be ready and when I got the call today I tried to go in and play my hardest.
“I’m excited for the challenge of playing and I hope I can go in and do the job for this team, but I also hope we’re able to get both Emily and Kendra back soon. You never want to see a teammate sidelined by an injury.”
Fairmont, which also got 17 points from Kaitlin Snyder and 15 from Nicholson, extended its lead to as many as 19 early in the second half before Bluefield mounted a couple of comeback attempts. The Lady Blues, however, could never get any closer than seven points and that came with just 49 seconds remaining.
“For us to win by 12 after being down 10-2 to start the game is great,” said McDonald. “I really liked the way our team responded after our first timeout when it was 10-2.”
Bluefield, which fell to 1-2 both overall and in the league, was led by center Shae Mebane’s game-high 23 points and eight rebounds. The Lady Blues also got 14 points from Charity Harris and 11 from Charlene Diggs. Harris’ 14 points were eight below her season average of 22. Seven of her 14 points came in the game’s final 5:42.
Fairmont State will be idle now for a week before returning to action Saturday, Dec. 8 with a 2 p.m. non-conference home game at the Joe Retton Arena against Virginia-Wise.