By Mike DeFabo
Times West Virginian
It’s no secret.
Darhius Nunn and Tavon Horton have been the catalysts for Fairmont Senior’s offense this season, scoring a combined 25 points per game and knocking down three game-winners between them.
So when the pair struggled offensively Wednesday afternoon in the first round of the state basketball tournament, so, too, did the No. 7 Polar Bears in a 55-40 season-ending loss to No. 2 Poca at the Charleston Civic Center Coliseum.
“If it wasn’t for their play, we wouldn’t be down here,” Fairmont Senior coach David Retton said of Nunn and Horton. “It’s a team sport and I’m certainly not (bashing) anything about our other guys, but their play has been outstanding all year.”
After a pause he added: “Sometimes they didn’t fall the way we wanted them to go, particularly for (Tavon) and Darhius.”
The duo combined to shoot 0-for-10 from the field in the first half and 3-for-23 in the game. Dots coach Allen
Osbourne said after the game that he was well aware of Horton and Nunn’s scoring potential and made a conscious effort to shut them down.
“Horton and Nunn are very quick,” he said. “They can beat you off the dribble. We were really concerned with those two guards. We did a great job on them.”
Despite the struggles of their two top scorers, the Polar Bears (15-10) kept pace with Poca in a back-and-forth first half that featured one tie and four lead changes. Playing on his birthday, Jacob Casalinuova stepped up with two first-half 3-pointers that helped the Polar Bears stay within a bucket at 19-16 at the half.
“It was nice to come up here and play well, especially on my birthday,” said Casalinuova, the Polar Bears’ leading scorer with nine points. “It’s too bad we couldn’t win.”
Poca (25-1) similarly didn’t shoot as well as it had hoped in the first half. Though the Dots’ 38.1 percent field goal percentage wasn’t terrible, they missed several open looks and a handful of layups that could have improved that figure.
At the half, Osbourne told his team as much.
“Coach Osbourne said we’re going to shoot the ball better in the second half because of all the good looks we got,” said Poca junior Noah Frampton, who scored 10 points and dished out seven assists.
Not only did the Dots shoot better in the second half, they shot lights out.
Sparked by an 8-0 run to start the half, they went on to hit 14-of-17 field-goal attempts for an eye-popping 73.7 percent field-goal percentage over the final 16 minutes.
Freshman Luke Frampton was a major reason for the success. He scored 14 of his team-leading 21 points in the second half to go along with nine rebounds and five assists. Elijah Cuffee also finished in double figures for Poca with 13 points.
The Polar Bears’ offensive struggles continued, meanwhile, and they finished just 14-for-52 (26.9 percent) from the field.
“There’s no question that defense wins championships and all that, but when you’re struggling offensively it just puts so much more pressure on you every possession down the floor,” Retton said. “You just have to defend and have to get a stop.”
Though the season didn’t end the way the Polar Bears had hoped, they surprised some by advancing to the tournament despite losing all five starters from last year’s state runner-up team.
“When you have no starters returning and to see what they’ve done, that’s a tremendous accomplishment,” Retton said. “In the same breath, it’s not an accomplishment to come down here and get beat. That’s not the objective.”
Asked what he learned from the experience, Nunn said: “It’s a long game. You can’t panic at one part of it. ... When you panic, bad things start happening.”
Now begins the next stage for the young Polar Bear team. What’s next? The same thing coaches say after almost every game.
“Right now, I don’t know who’s on our schedule yet. I’ve been working on that a little bit,” Retton said. “But our focus is to get ready and win the next game.”
Poca advances to play No. 3 Bluefield in the semifinals Friday at 9:30 a.m.
Email Mike DeFabo at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @MikeDeFaboTWV.