By Mike DeFabo
Times West Virginian
Tavon Horton sat with his legs outstretched on the bleachers at the Woody Williams Armory, exhausted.
A trainer wrapped his right calf with a bag of ice, while the junior guard entertained questions about his 17-point performance, his clutch 3-pointer to send the game into double overtime and the cramps he fought through into the third overtime period.
Suddenly, mid-answer, he stopped and signaled for the trainer who was walking away.
“This one too,” he said, pointing to his other leg.
It was that kind of game Wednesday night.
Multiple key players fouled out. Three times the game appeared over. Muscles cramped and failed. But the heart kept beating for No. 8 Fairmont Senior all the way through three thrilling overtime periods with No. 1 Robert C. Byrd.
But ultimately, it wasn’t enough.
The Eagles escaped with a 74-71 victory in a game that wasn’t decided until the very last possession.
“We made a statement,” said Horton about the Polar Bears’ performance against the state’s top-ranked team. “We lack in experience, but we’re still mentally tough.”
The Polar Bears (4-4, 3-2 Big 10) appeared to be beaten with time winding down in regulation. Robert C. Byrd (9-0, 7-0 Big 10) led 52-50 in the final seconds of the fourth quarter and needed to do little more than inbound the ball. But Fairmont Senior guard Darhius Nunn stole the pass and took it for a layup to send the game into overtime.
In overtime, the Eagles led with time winding down again. This time Horton played the hero. He had cramps that were so severe that he had to limp to the free-throw line at one point.
“My foot was stuck,” he said afterward.
But with an RCB defender draped all over him, Horton hit a 3-pointer with just 1.7 second remaining to send the game into double overtime.
“We just needed a 3,” he said. “It wasn't there, but it was there. I just shot it and hoped it went in."
Again in the second overtime, Fairmont Senior trailed in the final minute. This time Michael Holloway collected a rebound and put it back to tie the game at 69.
“It was a great game. Neither team wanted to lose,” said Robert C. Byrd coach Bill Bennett. “I told our kids before the game that these guys are young enough and inexperienced enough to come out here and not care about who you are.”
Finally in the third overtime the Polar Bears ran out of magic. Flying Eagles’ guard Cameron Carvelli hit two free throws in the final minutes and the Polar Bears’ final heave fell short.
“When you look at a triple-overtime game, there’s a play we didn't make on defense; there’s a play we didn't make on offense. That’s the game,” Fairmont Senior coach David Retton said. “(I think about) if I made a different call or if I made a different substitution. The margin of error is that close in a game like this.”
Five Polar Bears finished the game in double figures. In addition to Horton’s 17, Nunn put up 15, Isaac Childers scored 13, Blake Cehajic dropped 12 and Holloway finished with 10.
Robert C. Byrd, meanwhile, was led by 6-foot-5, 240-pound Justin Noble, who had 24 points and 17 rebounds. Cameron Carvelli (14 points), Devonti Birch (14) and Kevin Steele (10) also posted double figures.
Fairmont Senior will rest the tired muscles for a few days before facing Elkins.
“Can we use this game to improve our basketball team? Absolutely,” Retton said. “We weren't satisfied with the outcome, but at the same time we have made a lot of strides.”
“We've got to move forward quickly,” he continued. “Lets use this game to make strides and get ready for Elkins.”
Email Mike DeFabo at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @MikeDeFaboTWV.