With the West Virginia Conference’s leading scorer Steve Custis on the bench nursing a badly sprained ankle and second-leading scorer Isaac Thornton dealing with a heavy heart, Fairmont State University’s men’s basketball team wrapped up the regular season here Saturday afternoon at the Joe Retton Arena with a hard-fought 70-67 loss to visiting West Virginia Wesleyan.
In many ways the game typified much of the 2011-12 season for the Falcons, who played hard, competed for 40 minutes, but in the end came up just short. The loss, Fairmont’s third in a row and its seventh in eight games, dropped the Falcons to 9-17 overall and to 7-15 in the WVC. It was the eighth loss of the season by seven points or less for Fairmont State.
“We just can’t seem to catch a break,” said Thornton, who learned early Friday morning that his grandfather, Charles Ambers, had passed away. “I was close with him and the news was devastating to me. When I come out on the basketball court, though, that kind of frees me from everything. I tried not to think about it, clear my mind and get ready for this game. Everything I did out there today was for him.”
Thornton scored a team-high 24 points, grabbed five rebounds, recorded a pair of steals and helped his Falcons control the contest for nearly 33 of the game’s 40 minutes. However, down the stretch Wesleyan’s Reggie Chambers took over for the Bobcats when leading scorer Raymont McElroy went to the bench with four fouls. Chambers, who scored 22 of his team-high 24 points in the second half, keyed a crucial 14-5 run by the Bobcats during a four-minute span in the game’s final 6:33 which helped them take control of the game for good. Chambers himself was responsible for 10 of the 14 points on the game-changing surge.
Fairmont, though, never quit. Led by Thornton and Melvin Rhodes the Falcons battled back in the waning seconds but could never overtake the Bobcats, who improved to 19-7 overall and to 15-7 in the league with the victory.
“Once we knew Steve wasn’t going to be playing today for us we all knew we had to pick it up and elevate our games,” said Rhodes, who finished with 18 points and was a perfect 5-of-5 from 3-point range. “This season certainly hasn’t gone the way we wanted it to in terms of wins, but once again today we showed that we have some heart and some character on this team and that we’re not as bad as what our record says. We pulled together and fought hard, but once again came up just short.
“Now, though, it’s a new season for us. We start tournament play Tuesday and we have one more chance.”
FSU finished 12th in the 15-team league regular-season standings. The Falcons will travel to Philippi Tuesday evening to tangle with fifth place Alderson-Broaddus (17-9, 14-8) in a 7:30 p.m. opening-round WVC Tournament game at the Rex Pyles Arena. The Battlers, who have dropped four straight, defeated FSU twice during the regular season – 77-74 in Philippi and 81-70 in Fairmont.
West Virginia Wesleyan, which got 21 points from McElroy and 12 points from Mike Washington, played Saturday’s game without starting forward Kelsey Williams who has a stress fracture in his foot. The Bobcats finished fourth in the final WVC standings and will open play Tuesday in the annual league tournament with a first-round home game against No. 13 Glenville State (7-19, 6-16) at 7:30 p.m.