BUCKHANNON – The last time Fairmont State men’s basketball trailed late in a game, their comeback attempt was too little, too late as they dropped their conference-opener to Davis and Elkins in a three-point loss.
Tuesday night, a similar situation wouldn’t deter the Falcons, as they trimmed a double-digit second half deficit into a tied ballgame with under a minute to play against Mountain East Conference rival West Virginia Wesleyan.
This time, Fairmont would close their rally with gusto on back-to-back three-pointers from Dale Bonner and Isaiah Sanders, with the latter’s triple coming at the buzzer to secure a 75-72 win.
“I saw Dale drive in, and I saw three guys close in on him so I tried to get into position. I work on that exact shot a lot at night with my teammate Jack Kelsheimer — I knew if he passed it to me I was going to make it,” Sanders said.
The Falcons — who secured their first league win of the season with the victory — trailed by 10 points with just 10 minutes to play, struggled to establish a rhythm offensively for most of the night.
Despite shooting just 35 percent from the field in the final 20 minutes and 38 percent for the game, Fairmont State would use a gritty defensive effort to claw back into the contest. The Falcons would force 17 turnovers on the night, including six during the last 10 minutes of play. In total, they would outscore Wesleyan 23-14 in points off turnovers, holding an 8-0 advantage in that category in the second half.
“I want to congratulate Fairmont on a good game — we completely messed up, and it was our fault. They switched to a 1-3-1 zone which we practice for, but we just couldn’t execute. We started the second half strong, but we couldn’t hold it down. The pressure got to us, and we had some bad shots and some turnovers. They played tougher than us, nothing more than that,” Wesleyan guard Luka Petrovic said.
“We helped them a lot, not that they didn’t play well. We had 17 turnovers — that’s too many mistakes. We lost our minds, and we just came off a scenario that was exactly the same at Frostburg State. We talked after that about not making 50/50 plays, and we went out tonight and we were making 30/70 plays with three of four minutes to play. We have to address our mental toughness down the stretch,” said Wesleyan coach Nick Patella.
After a tough loss to Davis and Elkins less than a week earlier in a near-identical scenario, Fairmont State head coach Tim Koenig was happy to see his squad find a way to battle back when faced with an uphill climb on an off night.
“We didn’t make shots, and it’s hard to make a comeback or sustain leads when you have them if you don’t shoot well. We were able to win without making those shots — we got on the offensive glass better today, we got in transition better, and we forced turnovers. We made up for it in other areas,” Koenig said.
“I’m proud of them for sticking together when there was some adversity. They didn’t hang their heads when shots didn’t fall and things didn’t go their way. They just continued to play.”
Bonner led Fairmont State with a 25-point performance in the win, while also adding 11 rebounds to record a double-double. Sanders and Kenzie Melko-Marshall each added 16 points. Petrovic led Wesleyan with an 18-point performance, with Ross Young tallying 14 points and 11 rebounds for the Bobcats.
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