Times West Virginian
It was a tale of two halves here Wednesday evening at the McDonough Center for Fairmont State University’s men’s basketball team.
Luckily, the deciding second half belonged to the Falcons who wiped out a 13-point halftime deficit and rolled to an 88-81 victory over Wheeling Jesuit to improve to 6-3 overall and to 4-1 in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
Just three days after a tough, emotional two-point road loss to Division I Kent State University, FSU coach Jerrod Calhoun was anxious to see how his team would react last night. It didn’t take long for him to get an initial answer.
The Cardinals took the game to the Falcons in the first 20 minutes and used red-hot shooting to open a 46-33 lead at the break. Wheeling shot 57.6 percent from the field in the first half (19-of-33), including a 6-of-11 performance from 3-point range.
Fairmont, on the other hand, struggled. The Falcons were just 16-of-40 from the field in the opening half, including just 1-of-6 from long range. Fairmont also turned the basketball over 10 times.
The second 20 minutes, however, was a different story. FSU made some defensive adjustments which hampered the Cardinals offensively and found its shooting touch to outscore WJU 55-35 in the second half.
“I was pretty proud of our effort tonight,” said Calhoun. “We lost an emotional game to Kent State just a couple of days ago and anytime you can bounce back from that with a win on the road it’s good. I’ve been in a lot of leagues — the Big East, the Horizon League and this one now and it’s always tough to win on the road.
“To be honest I think we wore them down a little tonight. We play a lot of guys and they really only played about seven and I think that got to them a little. I have guys like Ty Garrison and Andrew Gunnoe who may not score a lot, but I trust them on the floor, know what they’re going to do and they gave us good minutes tonight.”
Led by Isaac Thornton and Isaiah Hill, Fairmont wasted little time getting themselves back in the contest. Hill, who had just two points in the first half, finished with 13 and scored 11 of those in the first six minutes of the second half. Nine of those 11 points came on 3-point field goals for the 6-9 senior center who helped get FSU within six with 14 minutes remaining. Thornton, meanwhile, finished with 15 points, nine of which came in the second half. He also grabbed seven rebounds and handed out six assists.
“Isaac Thornton had a terrific game for us,” said Calhoun. “He’s not averaging 20 points, but I think he’s having an unbelievable season for us. His all-round game is so much better. He’s rebounding the ball very well and passing the ball very well. The sign of a great player is someone who can make people around him better and he’s doing that for us.
“Isaiah is just shooting the ball a lot better this year than he did last year at Mountain State. I think a big reason for that is Malik (Stith) is getting good penetration at times and finding Isaiah open on the perimeter and he’s knocking down shots. He’s got that capability.”
Fairmont took its first lead of the second half at 62-61 with 10:34 left to play on a 3-pointer by Stevie Browning. That’s when FSU’s Chase Morgan took over the contest. Morgan, who was held scoreless in the first 20 minutes, exploded for 15 points in the game’s final 9:52 to help FSU pull away. He went 4-of-5 from 3-point range in the second half, including a couple of long bombs inside of the final three minutes with the shot clock running down to help the Falcons seal the victory.
“They hit some threes on us in the first half and in the second half we made some adjustments where we switched everything and that kind of took them away from what they wanted to do,” said Morgan. “Coach (Calhoun) is a great coach. He told us at the half to remain calm, make these adjustments and just go play hard and we did.
“We’ve got a lot of offensive weapons on this team and in the second half everyone got involved. As for me I just tried to step up for my team when we needed it. I felt like we needed it the last few minutes and my teammates did a great job of finding me and getting me the ball. It’s my job to bring some energy with me off of the bench when I get in the game. That’s all I was trying to do.”
Stith finished with 13 points and eight rebounds. Eleven of his points came in the second half. The Falcons also got 12 points and 10 rebounds from Brendan Cooper, eight points from Browning and six apiece from Ke’Chaun Lewis and Tommy Scales.
Wheeling, which fell to 3-5 overall and to 1-4 in the league, nearly got a triple-double performance from senior guard Ben Seifert, who finished with 18 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists. The Cardinals also got 18 points from both Recardo Gaddy and Joe Prati and 15 from Justin Fritts. Fritts, who is WJU’s leading scorer, was held scoreless by FSU in the final half.
Fairmont State returns to action Saturday when it visits Ohio Valley for a 4 p.m. game in Vienna.