The last two times Fairmont State’s Lady Falcons have won the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Basketball Tournament, FSU has struggled at home in its opening-round game.

Monday evening at the Joe Retton Arena was no different.

Pesky No. 12 Ohio Valley University held a two-point lead at the half and then whittled a 15-point Fairmont State advantage down to just four with 5:28 to play before succumbing to the fifth-seeded Lady Falcons, 73-66.

“The last two times we won this tournament, our first-round games here were very difficult ones for us,” said FSU coach Steve McDonald, whose team improved to 18-9 overall with the win and will face fourth-seeded Shepherd University (19-10) Wednesday at 1 p.m. in the quarterfinals at the Charleston Civic Center. “We were a higher seed playing a much lower seed, and believe me they were difficult games for us. Tonight there was a lesson to be learned by our young team. It’s tournament time and you have to play against every one and give an equally hard effort every time you play.

“Tonight we didn’t play well, especially in the first half, but I thought our team showed a lot of character in the second half building a lead and then hold them off after their 11-0 run. At the same time, I thought Ohio Valley played extremely well and showed a lot of character, too. They’ve been through some tough times here recently, but tonight they never quit.”

Trailing 30-28 at the break, Fairmont abandoned its zone defense it employed in the first half and went to a man-to-man. The move paid dividends for the Lady Falcons on both ends of the floor as they connected on their first four field goal attempts and used a 9-0 run to take a 37-30 advantage.

“The first half it was pretty obvious,” said FSU junior point guard Kaitlin Snyder, who finished with 17 points, nine rebounds and a game-high eight assists and seven steals. “I think everyone could tell our defense just wasn’t there and we weren’t boxing out on the boards as well as we needed to.”

FSU sophomore backup forward Kendra Holmes agreed. The Lady Falcons were out-rebounded by 12 by OVU in the first half, but only by one in the final 20 minutes.

“We knew we had to do a better job of boxing out and getting rebounds,” said Holmes, who finished with 10 points and five rebounds. “Doing that would allow us to push the ball up the court like we wanted to.

“I don’t think our defense was too good in the first half. That’s why we switched to man and once we did that we got up in them, pressured them and got them back on their heels.”

Fairmont built a 15-point, 62-47 advantage with 6:42 remaining in the contest, but Ohio Valley used an impressive 11-0 run during a span of 1:06 to climb back into contention at 62-58 with 5:28 left to play.

The Lady Falcons, though, withstood the furious rally by the Lady Fighting Scots. FSU used an 8-4 spurt itself keyed by six points from freshman center Hailey Garrett to push the margin back to eight with 2:44 remaining. Garrett finished with a team-high 20 points, five rebounds and three steals. Fourteen of her 20 points came in the decisive second half.

Tiffany Nicholson chipped in 12 points for FSU, Emily Lohr finished with six and Briana Welch and Kelsi Wright both contributed four points apiece.

Ohio Valley, which ended its season at 9-20, was led by Shelby Way’s game-high 23 points. The Lady Fighting Scots also got 15 points from Amber Avery, 12 from Dakeisha Mann and 10 from Kayla Parsley — all of which came in the first half.

As noted, FSU will battle Shepherd Wednesday in the quarterfinals at 1 p.m. The fourth-seeded Lady Rams knocked off No. 13 Bluefield State on Monday night, 72-40.

Fairmont State won its only meeting during the regular season with Shepherd, 66-63, back on Jan. 18 at the Joe Retton Arena. Last year Shepherd eliminated FSU in the opening round of the WVIAC Tournament, 59-50.

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