CHARLESTON — In the mind of Fairmont Senior, Thursday’s state quarterfinals game against the North Marion Huskies was about playing like they did at the end of the two teams’ regular season meeting, and not at the beginning of their Feb. 2 game.
“I loved our mindset today, and our approach. We tried to set the tone with our practices, we tried to set the tone in regards to what we wanted to accomplish. North Marion was leading 15-10 after the first quarter of our first game. We had a three-point lead at halftime. It was 34-30 with 6:15 to go [in the third quarter].”
“In my thought process, if they could do that for that time, why can’t they do that for 32 minutes? I believe that they can do it for 32 minutes, so that was our mindset in trying to stop them, trying to limit what they do, and our guys did a great job with it.”
The No. 2 Polar Bears’ game plan went smoothly against the No. 7 Huskies. They had a banner day on the boards and shooting from the field resulted in a 71-27 Polar Bears’ victory.
The Polar Bears shot 56.9% from the floor against the Huskies, who struggled to keep control of the ball and stop Fairmont Senior from getting easy transition baskets.
Limiting turnovers was a must for North if they wanted to pull off the upset. After falling victim to turnover problems in their regular season meeting with Fairmont Senior, the Huskies couldn’t change the script on Thursday.
North attempted 31 shots to the Polar Bears’ 51 shots, a differential that grew from 16 Fairmont Senior offensive rebounds and 17 North Marion turnovers.
“It is tough,” North Marion head coach Steven Harbert said. “Sometimes it’s not the quantity of shots, it’s the quality. Obviously we want more than 31 shots, we want to be in the 50’s.
“We’ve been shooting high 50% inside the arc throughout the season and even against them last time, we shot the ball well inside. What killed us last time was live-ball turnovers, and we did it again today. Those live-ball turnovers turn into easy transition buckets. We didn’t get shots off and when we did it wasn’t a quality shot.”
North Marion trailed 7-16 after the first quarter and 34-16 at halftime. Fairmont Senior’s DeSean Goode had already reached double-digit rebounds by the halfway mark, with six points and 10 rebounds at halftime.
Goode finished the game with 16 boards, while North Marion mustered just 11 as a team. The Polar Bears dominated the rebounding battle Thursday, 36-11 by the final buzzer.
“We got one guy that’s averaging almost 11 rebounds a game,” Harbert said about the rebounding differential. “I didn’t see what their shooting percentage was but that probably plays into some of it as well. They got shots at the rim, they’re going to make it and you’re not going to get a rebound.
“The missed shots, I told them we have to make sure to check out, box out, and keep Dobbs and Goode off the glass. Those guys did a good job of going after the ball when we didn’t keep them out.”
Goode finished with a hearty 14-point, 16-rebound double-double, adding two assists and three steals onto his stat sheet.
“Whatever I can do to help my team be successful, I’ll do it,” Goode said. “It’s just a role that’s asked of you as a player. Whatever happens, your role might change, and you’ve got to do what helps the team.
“My team, they boxed out, they just let me go to the ball, and we were all just doing what we had to do and not being selfish.”
Zycheus Dobbs led all scorers with 24 points to go with three rebounds, four assists and five steals. Dobbs shot a sparkling 9-10 from the field.
“Just knowing I have the people around me that can give me that comfort, my teammates, my coaches, they want me to be aggressive, and the positions that our coaches put us in allows that,” Dobbs said.
Andre Grant scored 10 for Fairmont Senior, while Connor Gower spotted five with five assists, Julz Butler and Latique Williams each had five of their own. Darrell Claybrook finished with four and Layne Kidd and Cole Gilmore each had two.
North Marion’s Harley Sickles led the Huskies with six points and three rebounds. Caden Morris scored five, Brock Martin scored four, Parker Kincell and Brady Anderson each had three, and Landon Cowger, Quinton Harbert and Preston Williams finished with two each.
In the third quarter, Fairmont Senior went for the jugular, scoring 29 points in the third, and enforcing their will on defense. North Marion went without a single point in the third until a pair of Brock Martin free throws got the Huskies on the board with two seconds left in the period.
It was turnovers that allowed Fairmont Senior to put the game away in the third. The Polar Bears turned the game into a track meet with their full court press, and ended with 29 points off turnovers in the game, a figure that superseded North’s point total on the game.
“I was very pleased,” Retton said of his team’s press defense. “We didn’t think. Sometimes when we think, we’re slower. We did a very good job of playing through the ball. Not getting to the guy, playing through the ball, getting to the ball before it reaches the guy.
“And outside of a couple plays, we did a very good job on the backside as well. You’re giving up something. It’s not just we’re going to press and take everything away. You try to take everything away, you work at it, and our guys did a great job of giving the second, third effort if we weren’t in position.”
For North Marion, it was not a matter of being surprised by the Polar Bears, as being unable to avoid what they knew was coming.
“They don’t change what they do,” Harbert said. “They start every second quarter out in a 2-3 zone. The play full-court man, they jump. Everything they’ve done all season long [...] they’re going to play full-court man, they’re going to play 1-2-2 full court just to give a different look.
“They don’t change anything that they do. Their emphasis is on defense and their defense creates offense. They get deflections, turnovers, they fly around. As far as scheme, they haven’t done anything different— I was with coach Freeman back in 2013 and they’re running the same stuff. The emphasis is defense.”
For Fairmont Senior, they prepare for the customary quick turnaround in Charleston to the semifinals, with a Friday match against No. 6 Elkins, fresh off a thrilling 60-49 upset victory over No. 3 Ripley.
The Polar Bears and the Elkins Tigers, both of the Big X Conference, played back on Jan. 10, where Fairmont Senior came out on top 74-38. Elkins got to Charleston with a 58-55 upset victory over East Fairmont in regionals.
“I just have a lot of respect for what they’re doing at this time in the season, and how they played today,” Retton said of Elkins. “They played a very good basketball game. We’ll watch more tape and prepare the best we can against Elkins.”
For North Marion, the win leaves a feeling of what could have been, as the Huskies say goodbye to an impactful senior class including Harley Sickles, Preston Williams, Parker Kincell and Cole Malnick.
The Huskies earned a trip to the state tournament by way of a regionals road win for the second season in a row, only to run into a tough opponent both years. North entered the tournament as a eight seed in 2021-22 and a seven seed this year.
“When Hampshire won and we won, and then Elkins knocks off East, I thought here we go, we’re going to get a shot at playing Ripley, somebody I haven’t seen,” Harbert said. “I could control some of it I guess, maybe we should’ve played a lighter schedule. Last year we came down here, and other than Shady and Scott, we played everybody else that was in the state tournament. I take the approach with this team — we’re going to play the best schedule that we can put together.
“The record don’t matter to me. You’ve got to play your best ball in March [...] We’re going to play a good schedule, we’re going to be battle tested throughout the year, we’re going to get into situations that hopefully we’re going to get into again in postseason play. I’ve preached that to them and promised them that as long as I’m here that’s what I want to do.”
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