The Times West Virginian

Sports

January 25, 2014

Falcons host Charleston in the first of four pivotal MEC games

FAIRMONT — There comes a point in every season when a team reaches a critical juncture.

Win a handful of games and the team can ride the momentum all the way into the post-season. Lose and they’ll wind up watching the playoffs from home.

That time is now for Fairmont State’s basketball team, according to second-year coach Jerrod Calhoun.

“The next four games will really define our season,” he said.

The Falcons will square off against four conference foes in the next eight days. The stretch begins today when they welcome the University of Charleston to Joe Retton Arena. The tip-off is scheduled for 4 p.m., immediately after the women’s team goes for the sweep against UC at 2 p.m.

Fairmont State (11-5, 6-4 MEC) enters the game riding high after a gutsy come-from-behind, overtime win over Shepherd.

“We were definitely hyped about it,” said junior guard Chase Morgan. “But we’ve got to forget about it because we’ve got an even bigger game (today). Each game now just keep getting bigger and bigger as the season goes on, especially when you’re trying to compete for an NCAA tournament birth.”

The Golden Eagles (11-4, 8-3) are currently sitting in third place in the MEC. Calhoun called them the “surprise team of the Mountain East” before the two teams met in December.

Charleston, which is holding opponents to a league-best 69.9 points per game, forced the Falcons into 18 turnovers during that contest on its way to a 75-71 victory. The Golden Eagles, meanwhile, have turned the ball over just 10.6 times per game, the second-best mark in the conference.

Ball security will be essential if the Falcons hope to change the outcome this time around.

“We've got to take care of the ball. We've got to have ball security. We've got to take good shots,” Calhoun said. “That's one of the things I've talked to our team about all year.”

Offensively, the Golden Eagles boast three players who are averaging double figures: 6-foot-6 senior forward Xavier Humphrey (17.3 points per game), 6-foot-8 sophomore forward Aleksander Kesic (12.7 points per game) and 5-foot-10 sophomore guard Tino diTrapano (10.7 points per game).

Denzel Douglas, a transfer point guard from Idaho, is just percentage points away from adding a fourth player in double figures. He’s putting up 9.9 points a game and accounted for five of the Golden Eagles’ steals the last time the two teams played.

“They've got a good point guard, a good big man, a good wing and a lot of good pieces around those three players,” Calhoun said.

The Falcons and their coach can go into detail about how to attack the Golden Eagle’s 2-3 zone. They can talk about how to limit their guards this time around. Or they can discuss any number of schemes and tactics.

But after studying the film from the first meeting, the major adjustment the Falcons need to make is a simple one.

“After watching the film from last game, the main point is just play hard,” Morgan said. “We lost a lot of 50-50 balls. That’s not how we play. Any time there’s a 50-50 ball, we should be right there, the first one to the floor. We didn’t play with a lot of intensity like we should have.”

Injury notes: After suffering through broken bones in the face and hand, sprained ankles, a heart condition, a chest infection and various other injuries and ailments, the Falcons are nearly back to full strength for one of the first times all season. Caleb Davis is the only Fairmont State player who will not suit up today. Calhoun said he believes this will be the last game the freshman guard will miss due to a chest infection. ... Brendan Cooper, who Calhoun called “one of the two best players in the league,” returned after missing an extended period of time with a broken hand to score 15 points and pull down 13 rebounds against Shepherd.

Email Mike DeFabo at mdefabo@timeswv.com or follow him on Twitter @MikeDeFaboTWV.

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