By Duane Cochran
For the Times West Virginian
For the past two weeks, first-year Fairmont State coach Jerrod Calhoun has said he doesn’t think there’s a player in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference playing any better than the Falcons’ Isaac Thornton right now.
Thornton, FSU’s 6-3 senior guard from Martinsburg, keeps proving his new coach right.
Monday evening on the road against Glenville State at the Jesse R. Lilly Gymnasium with the contest on the line, Thornton stepped to the forefront for FSU and keyed a game-changing 13-2 Falcon run with six straight points to help Fairmont pull away from the Pioneers and record a 78-66 victory.
Thornton finished with a game-high 24 points. It was the fourth straight game that the talented youngster has scored 22 or more points for FSU, which improved to 12-4 overall and to 10-2 in the WVIAC. It was also the sixth game in a row that Thornton has led Fairmont State in scoring.
“I’ve said it for about two weeks now but there’s not a player in this league playing better overall basketball than Isaac Thornton is right now,” Calhoun said. “This kid is playing the best basketball of his career. He’s really bought into our system. I’m just sad that we only have him for a couple of more months. I wish I had him for a few more years.”
With 12:40 remaining, it appeared Monday night as if Fairmont was cruising along toward its 12th win. But Glenville refused to fold.
Instead, the Pioneers reeled off 10 unanswered points to cut an 11-point FSU lead to just one at 54-53 around the nine-minute mark. GSC actually had a couple of opportunities to take the lead, but couldn’t against Fairmont’s stingy defense, which forced 17 Pioneer turnovers in the game and held Glenville to 36 percent shooting from the field.
The Falcons also held GSC’s top two scorers, Jamal Morris and Lamar Mallory, who came into the contest averaging a combined 36 points, to just a combined 14.
At that point Thornton, who had 16 of his 24 points in the opening half and hadn’t scored in the final 20 minutes, took over. He quickly reeled off six unanswered points to spark a 13-2 FSU run that made it 67-55 with 3:34 left to play, and it was never really close again.
“We know basketball is a game of runs, and at that point in time I knew I had to step up for my team,” said Thornton, who is now 12th in FSU history in career scoring with 1,824 points. “Give my teammates credit. They found me in good spots right there and I was able to convert on them.
“I have confidence in my game and I’m comfortable on the floor. I’m not trying to do anything special. I’m just trying to play hard every game and take games one at a time. All we want to do is win and I just want to try to help us do that, whether it’s by scoring, rebounding, passing or playing defense.”
Isaiah Hill added 18 points and eight rebounds for the Falcons. He nailed a pair of late 3-pointers to help FSU put the Pioneers away.
Fairmont also got 12 points and six rebounds from Brendan Cooper before he fouled out at the five-minute mark, and 12 points from Malik Stith.
“This was an emotional game for me because obviously I’m pretty close with some of their coaches (the Pioneers have former West Virginia players Joe Mazzulla and Rob Summers on their staff),” Calhoun said. “Joe Mazzulla was the catalyst for our Final Four team at WVU and he’s like a brother to me.
“Glenville State is much improved this year. I think Fairmont State and Glenville State are probably the two most improved teams in the league this season, so that was a good win for us.”
GSC, which fell to 9-7 overall and to 5-6 in the league, was led by Kevin Gray’s 19 points, 15 of which came off 3-point field goals. The Pioneers also got 18 points and eight assists from freshman D.J. Blanks.
Fairmont State will be idle until Saturday when it travels to Logan to battle Davis & Elkins College in the King Coal Classic at 4 p.m. at Willie Akers Arena. Fairmont State fans should note that is a home game on FSU’s schedule, but it will be played in Logan and not at the Joe Retton Arena.
Fairmont will be back at the Joe Retton Arena on Thursday, Jan. 31, when it hosts the University of Charleston in a 7:30 p.m. game.