By Duane Cochran
For the Times West Virginian
Fairmont State’s much-anticipated exhibition basketball game with West Virginia University on Monday evening at the Coliseum quickly turned into more of an officials’ show than anything else.
The Mountaineers benefited from an astounding 40 foul calls on the Division II Falcons and connected on 37-of-54 free throws to cruise to an 89-70 victory.
The game, which virtually had no flow at all thanks to the new emphasis for officials to call hand checks, was close for the first 14 minutes until the fouls started to mount against the Falcons. FSU eventually ended up having five players foul out, and had this been a regular game it would have been the first time since 1959 that a WVU opponent had five players foul out of a contest.
“We’re very grateful that Huggs (WVU coach Bob Huggins) gave us the opportunity to play them,” said second-year FSU coach Jerrod Calhoun. “I hope they got something out of tonight because I know we did.
“One thing is the game is really going to be called differently this year, and I think you all saw that. There’s going to be fouls called.”
FSU was whistled for 22 fouls in the opening half, sending WVU to the charity stripe for 29 free throws, 20 of which the Mountaineers connected on to build a 45-33 lead at the break. The Falcons actually had three more field goals than WVU did at the break, but were just 7-of-8 at the foul line themselves and had just two 3-point field goals compared to seven by the Mountaineers.
“I kept wearing (official) Doug Sirmons out and he told me we had to coach them better,” said Calhoun with a smile. “We’re going to have to go back and watch the tape and definitely play some zone this year.
“I was shocked at the amount of fouls that were called, but that’s all of the new rules and they have to call them.”
“I thought we did a pretty good job in the first half,” said Huggins. “We’re on the team like nobody’s business every time they put their hands on somebody. We’re on them about fouling.
“I do think this will help beer sales tremendously. There’s going to be a lot of dead time and time to run to the fridge. It’s going to be this way for a while, guys, and I think everybody recognizes that. Honestly, I feel bad for the officials and I never thought I’d say that. I can’t believe that came out of my mouth, but there’s just so much pressure for them to call hand checks.”
Sophomore guard Eron Harris led the Mountaineers with a game-high 30 points — half of which came at the foul line where he found himself 20 times on the evening. Harris also grabbed eight rebounds. True freshman forward Nathan Adrian from Morgantown High School added 21 points, 18 of which came from six 3-pointers.
WVU also got 18 points off the bench from Gary Browne, 12 of which came at the charity stripe and 13 from Juwan Staten, seven of which came at the foul line.
In all, only six Mountaineers scored in the game and four of them reached double figures.
In the second half WVU quickly extended its lead to 17 before Fairmont rallied to cut it to 10 at 54-44 with 14:22 left to play. The Mountaineers pushed it back out to 19 midway through the final half before a last-gasp effort by the Falcons got it to 11 twice around the four-minute mark.
“The foul calling really hurt us tonight,” said FSU sophomore guard Stevie Browning, who played a solid all-around game and led the Falcons with 23 points and eight rebounds. “Every time we would make a run, someone would end up getting fouled and it would really break our momentum. But that’s how it’s going to be and we have to learn to play without fouling.”
FSU freshman point guard Caleb Davis was the only other Falcon to reach double figures. He finished with 13 points.
West Virginia will open the regular season Friday at 8 p.m. when it hosts Mount St. Mary’s at the Coliseum.
Fairmont State will begin regular-season play Saturday in the Joe Retton Classic at 3 p.m. against Bowie State at the Joe Retton Arena.