It was an electric atmosphere here Wednesday evening at the Joe Retton Arena.
Unfortunately, Fairmont State University’s men’s basketball team ran out of juice in the waning minutes and fell, 92-87, to visiting Pitt-Johnstown.
Fairmont played one of its best halves of basketball of the season to start the game and held a 50-40 advantage over the Mountain Cats at intermission.
However, in the final 20 minutes Murphy’s Law seemed more the norm for the Falcons, as everything that could go wrong for them at crucial times did.
Leading 58-46 FSU’s Mike Hurd was whistled for a controversial intentional foul that led directly to seven unanswered points for UPJ, which helped the visitors climb back into contention. After that, the contest was close the rest of the way until the Mountain Cats surged ahead in the final five minutes with a crucial 10-3 spurt.
Pitt-Johnstown shot a scorching 66.7 percent from the field in the win (34-of-51) and secured the victory at the foul line, where the Mountain Cats connected on 18 of their 19 attempts.
Patrick Grubbs, a 6-8, 280-pound senior center, was once again a thorn in FSU’s side. He finished with a game-high 28 points and eight rebounds and was 11-of-14 from the field and 6-of-6 at the charity stripe.
UPJ also got 26 points from guard Nick Novak, 18 of which came in the second half and 15 from guard Jordan Miller, who was 5-of-7 from 3-point range in the victory.
“It’s frustrating for us, but we’re still playing hard,” said FSU interim coach Brett Vincent. “Our basketball IQ isn’t great at times. We got mixed up a few times and let Jordan Miller get open on us. We knew Grubbs would be tough to handle, but our game plan was to try to take Miller out of the game and we obviously didn’t do a great job of that. He was 5-of-7 from 3-point range and on four of those makes he had good looks. You can’t do that against good basketball teams.
“I still think we’re a pretty good basketball team ourselves, even though our record doesn’t show it. We’ve just got to find a way, as good teams do, to tough it out down the stretch and come out on the upper end of these games.”
FSU shot 54.4 percent (37-of-68) itself from the field in the contest and only got out-rebounded by the much taller Mountain Cats by three. However, Fairmont was a disappointing 2-of-8 from the foul line.
Steve Custis, Isaac Thornton and Mike Hurd led the Falcons with 26, 18 and 15 points, respectively. Custis also became FSU’s all-time leader in steals in the loss with seven. He now has 180 for his career, which breaks the old mark of 175 set by Anthony Naylor from 1988-92.
“I think we played hard, but they out-played us at the end and got the win,” said Custis. “They hit some big shots when they had to down the stretch and we couldn’t get a couple crucial ones ourselves to fall. We also missed some free throws down the stretch, which hurt us.
“It’s frustrating for all of us, but we’re not going to quit. Our goal now is to try to put ourselves in the best possible position we can for the tournament. That’s not an easy task, but it’s a challenge we’ve got to take on.”
The loss dropped Fairmont State to 7-12 overall and to 5-10 in the West Virginia Conference. UPJ, on the other hand, improved to 11-8 overall and to 9-5 in the league.
The Falcons will be idle until Monday, Feb. 6, when they host West Virginia State in a 7:30 p.m. game at the Joe Retton Arena.