By Matt Welch
Times West Virginian
It all came down to one play.
It wasn’t a buzzer-beater nor was it in the final seconds, but when North Marion’s Chase Banker dribbled out of trouble and found center Cody Opron underneath the basket for a score late in the fourth quarter, it put the Huskies in a great position.
Homestanding North Marion (1-0 overall and in the Big 10) took a six-point lead on the play and went on to beat No. 5 Fairmont Senior, 57-48, in the season opener for both teams Friday night.
“I thought that obviously was a big play,” North Marion coach Chris Freeman said. “That six-point advantage gave us enough of a cushion where it forced them to take some outside shots, and we were able to contest those and get long rebounds. That did kind of separate the game there a little bit.”
Opron, a 6-foot-7 senior, recorded a double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds.
“West Side played really good tonight,” Opron said. “In the first quarter we were sloppy, but there at the end we buckled down and just played hard.”
Fairmont Senior (0-1) kept the Huskies’ big man in check early in the game, though, but that could’ve been because the rest of North Marion’s starters weren’t hitting much of anything it seemed.
“There were a lot of jitters. It was a big game,” Freeman said of the first half. “It was a heck of a way to start the season, with a matchup like that right off the bat.”
The game was expected to be a dog fight, and it was just that.
The Huskies and Polar Bears were nearly even the entire first half, with both teams exchanging buckets en route to a 18-17 score in favor of the Polar Bears.
In the second half, though, Banker came out fired up.
The 6-foot-1 senior scored the Huskies’ first six points of the half, doubling what he had in the first half.
“Chase and Cody, they’ve got to lead us,” Freeman said of his seniors. “They’ve been with me for really four years. They’re expected to step up and make big plays, and that’s what Chase did.”
Banker ended with 12 points and seven rebounds.
After Banker ignited the Huskies, the Polar Bears continued to stick right with them, as guards Tavon Horton and Darhius Nunn began to settle in.
“You have to give Fairmont credit,” Freeman said. “Those guys played hard. They were active and aggressive.”
When Horton went out with foul trouble early in the second half, the Polar Bears turned to Nunn and Ike Childers to carry the load.
Childers, who struggled shooting in the first half, led the Polar Bears with 13 points.
When Horton finally came back in the game, it was too little, too late as the Huskies moved ahead for good in the final minutes.
To start the season off with a double-double and a win over a top five team, Opron said, is awesome.
“It’s a great feeling to come out the first game of your senior season and get that,” he said.
Cole Richards and Matt Martin each scored double figures for the Huskies with 13 and 10, respectively. Horton and Nunn each scored 10 for Fairmont Senior.
The win for the Huskies gives them an edge in the eyes of the poll voters maybe, but they won’t be able to celebrate too long, said Freeman.
“We don’t have a long time to celebrate this; we’ve got to play again (tonight) against Weir, so we’ve got to go home and get some rest and get ready to go,” Freeman said.
The Huskies will host Weir tonight at 6, while Fairmont Senior is back in action on Dec. 18 when it hosts Liberty (Harrison).
Email Matt Welch at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @MattWelch_TWV.