FAIRMONT — It can be tough to beat a group of athletes who have been around the block a few times, so to speak. That’s going to make tonight’s return to Joe Retton Arena a challenge for Fairmont State men’s basketball.
The Falcons will play host to Charleston at 7 p.m., with the Golden Eagles with Fairmont and six other teams for second in the MEC standings. What Charleston brings to the table that the Falcons don’t, however, are four returning starters from a team that finished 20-9 last fall — all four are in their junior or senior seasons, and each average double-digits in the scoring column through six games this season.
“They’re really good, and they have a lot of returners — from a familiarity standpoint, they return four starters and they’re the top four scorers. They’re experienced — they’re all juniors and seniors — and those guys really make them go,” Fairmont State head coach Tim Koenig said.
“Ever since I’ve been here, they’ve been a tough game for us,” said Fairmont State junior Kenzie Melko-Marshall. “They play physical, they rebound the ball well, and they’re very solid on the defensive end. It’ll be a good test for us, but I don’t think its anything we can’t handle — I think we’ll surprise some people with the tenacity we play with.”
The Falcons definitely don’t have that same level experience — they have no seniors on the roster and returned just two starters this winter in Melko-Marshall and Cole VonHandorf — but they will look to combat it with a more strategic approach to the game.
“We really need to play hard, play with intelligence, and just
understand what our opponents can do well and what they can’t do. We need to understand what each guy’s strengths and weaknesses are — we have to be aware and alert every possession, and we’re getting better with that and making strides,” Koenig said.
“I think we’ve made great improvements — early in the year we couldn’t focus in on a scouting report and take away the things we needed. As of late we’ve done a better job of focusing in on that,” Melko-Marshall said.
Both teams enter off close in-conference victories last week that were earned in the final seconds of action. Fairmont State downed West Virginia Wesleyan on a buzzer-beater 3-pointer from Isaiah Sanders, while Charleston slipped past Glenville State 85-83 via a Devon Robinson steal-and-layup with under 10 seconds to play. Koenig enters tonight’s game expecting another intense battle that could very easily come down to the wire.
“The league is really good this year — regardless of whether teams were picked high or low in the preseason, the scores have been really competitive up-and-down the league. We expect a very competitive game and it’s going to be tough. We’ve both figured out ways to win close games, and we have to keep making winning plays and be unselfish,” he said.
“We need to stick together and trust each other — a lot of other teams have a tendency to fight when they get down or do their own thing. When that happens to us, we come together and execute our game plan better. Once our sense of urgency needs to pick up, we do a good job of doing that,” Melko-Marshall said.