FAIRMONT - There are a few different ways to handle pre-game preparations as a basketball player — on Wednesday, Fairmont State sophomore Isaiah Sanders may have chosen the most unique one.
As Fairmont State prepared to welcome MEC rival Notre Dame — just one of two conference teams Fairmont had yet to beat this season, and the former home for Sanders, junior Jack Kelsheimer, and head coach Tim Koenig — Sanders spent his time before coming to the arena watching the film from the first meeting between the two teams this year, which ended in a loss for Fairmont.
"I watched the whole entire game from last time and I didn't think I played as hard as I could have, so I just wanted to lay it all out tonight," Sanders said.
His study paid off, as he was fully prepared to handle whatever his former teammates threw his way. Sanders would tally a team-high 26 points while converting eight-of-nine field goal attempts and five three-pointers in an explosive offensive performance to help lead his team to an 81-76 victory. He would also nab seven rebounds in the win.
"He was locked in and played really well. His shot selection was absolutely great, and our guys did a great job of finding him. He played so hard, and his defense and getting on the glass really ignited his play," Koenig said.
“Some of them dudes on that team are my brothers — I still talk to them to this day. I was really upset we lost the first time, and I didn’t want that to happen again this time. So I watched the film, I learned a lot from my mistakes in the last game, and I showed it out on the floor,” Sanders said.
In a back-and-forth affair that featured 14 lead changes and seven ties, the game would come down to the wire; Notre Dame would gain the advantage earlier and extend their lead to double-digits with around eight minutes left to play in the first half, but Fairmont would embark on a 17-2 run to secure the advantage entering the break.
Fairmont would keep their momentum rolling to open the second half of play and would open their lead to five points, but an 11-0 run from Notre Dame would give the visitors a six-point lead with just 10 minutes remaining in the game. No strangers to coming from behind to earn wins, though, Fairmont would keep the game close, and a three-point play from Sanders and jumper from Cole VonHandorf would narrow the gap to one point with just a few minutes to play.
Just three possessions later with under a minute to play, Sanders would drive to the rim and earn a trip to the foul line — one of ten fouls Sanders would draw during the contest — where he would convert a pair of free throws to take the lead, which Fairmont would hold for the remainder of play.
Koenig credited his team’s ability to secure the win — despite a strong run from Notre Dame midway through the second half — to better ball control from his team than they saw during the first half.
“I thought we played a little too hard offensively — a lot of unforced errors offensively, and we need to calm down a bit, which hurt us. Defensively, we played too hard and not as smart. I thought at times we may have been over-aggressive,” Koenig said.
“We took care of the ball significantly better in the second half, and that was very good. We also rebounded the ball better in the second half, and we tried to get those loose balls and rebounds. From there, you just have to let the chips fall as they may.”