Times West Virginian
JOHNSTOWN, Pa. —
One of the smallest Falcons came up big for Fairmont State here Tuesday evening in an 85-81 victory over Pitt-Johnstown at the Sports Center.
Guard Chase Morgan, a 5-11 sophomore from Pineville who transferred to FSU this year from Bluefield State, came off the bench and scored 10 of his season-high 21 points in the game’s final 3:22 to help the Falcons overcome a late three-point deficit and record the victory, which improved them to 3-2 overall and to 1-1 in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
“I was just trying to do anything I could to help my team,” said Morgan, who was 6-of-8 from the field, including 3-of-4 on 3-pointers. “At that point in time we were having a little trouble scoring the ball. Isaac (Thornton) made a great pass to me and Coop (Brendan Cooper) made a great pass to me and I just did what I’m supposed to do.
“Coach puts me in the game to help provide instant offense and bring energy off of the bench with my defense and that’s what I was trying to do. I wanted to impact the game for my team in a positive way so we could get out of here with a win tonight.”
And that’s exactly what he did.
Trailing 74-73 with 3:22 left to play, Morgan buried a 3-pointer from the right wing, which put FSU ahead 76-73. UPJ, however, responded with a quick 5-0 spurt over the next 46 seconds to open a 79-76 advantage with 2:36 left to play.
But Morgan and the Falcons were equal to the task. First, Morgan drained a heavily contested 10-foot baseline jumper with 1:50 left to pull Fairmont within one. Then 45 seconds later, he took a pass from Isaac Thornton and gave FSU the lead for good at 81-79 with 1:05 to play with another long 3-pointer.
On the other end, Fairmont’s Isaiah Hill, who finished with a game-high 26 points and nine rebounds, stole a lob pass with 45 seconds remaining. At the time the Mountain Cats only had five team fouls and had to foul twice in a 25-second span to finally put FSU at the foul line. Ironically, the seventh team foul for UPJ came against Morgan, who calmly stepped to the line for the one-and-one with 20 seconds remaining and sank both free throws to give the Falcons an 83-79 lead.
“I told the guys when they started fouling that I wanted the ball,” Morgan said. “I trust my free throw shooting. I feel like I’m a great free throw shooter and when the game’s in that situation and I’m on the floor I want the ball and want to be put at the line. My teammates trusted me, gathered around me and said, ‘Chase, go hit them’ and that’s what I did. I just tried to step up for us tonight when I was needed.”
On UPJ’s next-to-last possession standout senior guard Nick Novak hit a driving layup to pull the Mountain Cats to within two at 83-81 with 11 seconds remaining. FSU then inbounded the ball to Thornton, who was fouled with seven seconds left. Like Morgan, Thornton, too, was perfect at the line in a crucial situation, sinking both ends of a one-and-one to seal the victory for Fairmont.
“We needed this one tonight and we resorted to using a triangle-and-two defense in the second half, which we had never practiced, and the guys responded in it and got it done for us,” said FSU coach Jerrod Calhoun. “We had to do something to slow down Novak and (Jordan) Miller, who I think are two of the better players in the league. They (UPJ) scored 44 points on us in the first half so we had to do something to slow them down.
“Offensively, Chase really stepped up big for us tonight. He’s so capable at any time of making shots. He’s probably our best shooter and he needed to step up and he did in a big way. We’ve been on him about his defense and I think he’s getting better. He had a really good three practices for us leading into this game. As a team we’re still not there defensively, but we made some strides in the right direction tonight.”
Hill, who was hampered by foul trouble in FSU’s last two outings, stayed on the floor Tuesday night and responded with one of his best games of the season. Twenty-two of his 26 points came in the first half for the Falcons.
“The last two games we’ve lost he hasn’t played a whole lot because of foul trouble,” Calhoun said. “He played 10 minutes against Shepherd, but when he’s on the floor we’re a much better team. He’s a huge presence and he can really stretch the defense because of his three-point shooting. Tonight he really made an effort to get on the glass and I think he ended up just one rebound shy of a double-double.”
Thornton finished with 12 points and a team-high seven assists for the Falcons, while Cooper chipped in 10 points and seven rebounds.
UPJ, which fell to 3-2 overall and to 1-2 in the league, got 21 points, nine rebounds and seven assists from Novak. He, however, was held to just eight points in the second half by FSU’s triangle-and-two defense.
The Mountain Cats, who rallied from a 12-point second-half deficit to get back in it and take a couple of leads down the stretch, also got 17 points from Andrew Cressler, 15 from Ian Vescovi, 12 from Bill Luther and 10 from Miller. Miller, though, was held scoreless in the final 20 minutes.
FSU returns to action Saturday at 4 p.m. in the second game of a doubleheader at the Joe Retton Arena against Bluefield State. Fairmont State’s Lady Falcons will play the first game Saturday against the Lady Blues at 2 p.m.