By Duane Cochran
For the Times West Virginian
Emily Lohr set the tone early for Fairmont State here Monday evening in the opening round of the annual West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament, and her teammates played off her beautifully.
Lohr, who finished with a season-high 17 points, drained a pair of 3-point baskets less than two minutes into the game to give third-seeded FSU an early lead it never relinquished en route to an 83-47 victory over 14th-seeded Wheeling Jesuit at the Joe Retton Arena.
“Emily definitely got us going tonight,” said FSU sophomore center Hailey Garrett. “She had our first six points and was on all night.
“We knew this was it. It’s tournament time and you can’t lose anymore. We want to keep winning and moving on, and that’s really what motivated us tonight.”
The Lady Falcons were indeed motivated. After Lohr helped FSU build an early 8-4 lead, the Lady Falcons kicked it into another gear and over the course of the next 10 minutes outscored the stunned Lady Cardinals, 23-8, to build a 31-12 lead. That advantage ballooned to 42-16 by halftime.
“We came out tonight ready for this game and excited to play,” said Lohr, who finished 6-of-7 from the field, including 4-of-5 from 3-point range. “I mean, it’s playoff time. Who’s not excited or ready to play?
“I thought we shared the ball really well tonight and we communicated with each other really well, which was a big key for us.”
Fairmont had a season-high 22 assists on its 31 field goals in the win. The Lady Falcons also shot 57.4 percent from the field (31-of-54), including 44.4 percent from long range (8-of-18). On the defensive end, Fairmont held Wheeling to one of its worst shooting performances of the season. The Lady Cardinals connected on just 14-of-64 field goals (21.9 percent) and were never able to get into a flow offensively.
“I thought our mindset tonight was absolutely excellent,” said FSU coach Steve McDonald, whose team improved to 20-9 and recorded its seventh 20-win season in the past 11 years. “I didn’t sleep well last night. I had stomach problems today. I was nervous and had butterflies because this season we beat this team twice but it was by five points and by six points. Up there we were down 13 at the half to them, so we felt like this was going to be a heckuva game.
“I love the way we started the game tonight, particularly defensively. I know people will look at the stats and see we played well offensively and I’m sure we shot the ball well tonight, but I just think we played defensively really well, too, and it fed our offense.”
In the second half it took Fairmont less than five minutes to push its lead to 30, and for all intents and purposes the contest was over.
“This was a game we needed to come out and play our best, and we did that,” said FSU sophomore guard Hallie Gunnoe, who finished with 10 points and four rebounds. “Emily really started things off for us tonight at the beginning with the two shots she made and then we just all played off of that. We played to our strength, too. We drove to the basket against their zone. The final score just shows how well we played.”
Fairmont destroyed Wheeling in the paint Monday night. Led by Garrett, who finished with 16 points and six rebounds, FSU outscored the Lady Cardinals 22-2 in the opening half in the paint and 38-10 for the game.
“Coach tells us to kick it in and kick it out,” Garrett said. “We’re better when we play inside out. Tonight everything worked for us. We got a lot of baskets in the paint and our outside shooters were hitting.”
Fairmont State also got 11 points, a game-high seven assists and three steals from senior point guard Kaitlin Snyder, who needs just seven more points to reach 2,000 for her career. In addition, Briana Welch chipped in eight points for Fairmont, while Payden Eckleberry and Kristy Akers came off the bench to contribute six points apiece to the victory.
Wheeling, which ended the season 8-19, was led by Jaila Bryant’s 12 points. No other Lady Cardinal was able to reach double digits in the scoring column in the loss.
With the win, Fairmont advances to the league quarterfinals at the Charleston Civic Center for the 10th time in 11 seasons. The Lady Falcons will tangle with 11th-seeded West Virginia Wesleyan at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday. The Lady Bobcats (9-17) upset sixth-seeded West Virginia State on Monday night, 66-56.
FSU and West Virginia Wesleyan met once during the regular season in Buckhannon. Wesleyan won that contest, 82-62, back on Feb. 2.