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February 23, 2014

Wise completes season sweep of FSU

WISE, Va. — It took an extra five minutes, but for the second time this season struggling Virginia-Wise got it done against Fairmont State.

The Cavaliers, who entered Saturday afternoon’s Senior Day contest with the visiting Falcons at the David J. Prior Convocation Center having lost five in a row, seven of their last eight and were locked in a tie for ninth place in the 12-team Mountain East Conference, held off a second-half rally by FSU which forced overtime and then took care of business in the extra five minutes without some of their best players to eke out a 77-74 victory.

For the Falcons, who are battling for a first-round bye in the upcoming MEC Tournament and trying to secure a spot among the top eight in the NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional Rankings, the loss was costly. It dropped FSU to 17-9 overall, to 12-8 in the league and into sixth place in the conference standings. The top four schools in the MEC will receive opening-round byes for the tournament which begins March 4.

“It’s not going to be an easy process for us,” said FSU redshirt freshman forward Thomas Wimbush, who led the Falcons in the loss with 23 points and eight rebounds. “It hurts bad, but we’ve got to learn from our mistakes, pick our heads up as a unit and go all in. We’ve got to put this loss behind us, move on and get better.”

The win improved Virginia-Wise to 10-14 overall and to 7-13 in the league. It gave the Cavaliers a season sweep of the Falcons (they won 82-77 in Fairmont on Jan. 13) and allowed them to move into a tie for eighth place in the conference standings with West Virginia State and Notre Dame College.

“This was a huge win for us,” said first-year Virginia-Wise coach Blake Mellinger. “We didn’t want to lose on Senior Day. The last two days in practice we talked about sending our two seniors out the right way and when they got in foul trouble and eventually fouled out we had guys come in who probably played more minutes today than they have all season for us. I can’t say enough about their efforts. They gritted it out, played tough and did every little thing we needed them to do when we were facing a lot of adversity to get us this win.

“You know we didn’t do anything great in overtime today. We just made one more play then they did.”

Once again Fairmont somewhat sleep-walked through the first half and found itself trailing by six at the break, 33-27. Early in the second half things weren’t any better for the Falcons, who eventually fell behind by as many as 11 twice around the 15-minute mark before mounting a comeback to take the lead for the first time since the opening minutes at 61-59 on a driving layup by Wimbush with 5:20 left in regulation.

After that the contest, which featured seven ties and 12 lead changes, see-sawed back and forth. Both teams struggled at the free throw line in the second half and overtime, but it proved to be more costly for Fairmont, which finished the game 22-of-39 at the charity stripe (56.4 percent), including a 19-of-34 showing (55.8) in the second half and OT.

“For free throws our heads just weren’t mentally there today,” said Wimbush. “Those are free. You can’t leave points like that at the line. That, and a lot of missed layups by us was the big difference in the game. They didn’t give us anything easy. A lot of our shots were contested.”

With the score tied at 68 and 12 seconds remaining, Fairmont had the ball for the final possession in regulation. The Falcons found freshman guard Caleb Davis open under the bucket, but his reverse layup attempt wouldn’t fall and Wise cleared the rebound as time expired.

In overtime Fairmont grabbed the lead first and held it until the 1:15 mark when Cavalier freshman Jordan Smith buried a 3-pointer to give his team the lead for good at 74-73. Javon Moore then made 3-of-4 free throws in the final 45 seconds to help seal the victory for his team which outscored the Falcons 6-1 in the last 1:15.

FSU had one final shot to tie the game. After a timeout with 14 seconds left and trailing 77-74, the Falcons’ Shammgod Wells got off a 3-pointer with six seconds remaining which was off the mark and once again the Cavaliers cleared the board and threw the ball down the court as time expired.

Senior forward Deon Boyce, who fouled out with 1:30 left in regulation, led Virginia-Wise with 18 points and a game-high 19 rebounds. Matt Day, who fouled out with 30 seconds left in regulation, chipped in 13 points and six rebounds. The Cavaliers also got 12 points from both Charles George and Brian Sydnor and 10 points from Moore.

Joining Wimbush in double figures for Fairmont were Chase Morgan, who finished with 16 points and Brendan Cooper, who ended up with 13 points and six rebounds before fouling out with 4:51 left in regulation.

The Falcons will attempt to rebound Tuesday evening when they visit Notre Dame College for an MEC makeup game at 7:30 p.m. FSU then closes out the regular season Saturday when it hosts second-place Shepherd University in a 4 p.m. contest at the Joe Retton Arena.

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