By Duane Cochran
For the Times West Virginian
Defense has carried Fairmont State’s Lady Falcons to the top of the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference standings.
On Monday evening, visiting West Virginia State found out why.
FSU, the top defensive team in the conference, smothered the Lady Yellow Jackets all over the floor early and built a 14-point halftime lead en route to a 66-50 victory.
It was the fourth straight game the Lady Falcons have held an opponent to 58 points or less, and it was Fairmont’s fifth win in a row and its ninth in 10 outings.
“I like the way we defended the whole night,” said FSU coach Steve McDonald, who watched his team improve to 10-3 overall and to 8-1 in the WVIAC. “State has a very good team and especially a good offensive team. (Jasmine) Blanton is one of the best offensive players in the league and I thought Tiffany (Nicholson) did a great job of defending her tonight.
“I also thought we played a little bit better offensively tonight than we have been playing in terms of running with the basketball and executing some of our sets a little better. Overall, I just like the way we played, particularly on defense.”
FSU senior point guard Kaitlin Snyder spearheaded the Lady Falcons’ offensive attack in the opening half. She scored 15 of her game-high 21 points in the first half, including eight in a row to help Fairmont break the game open.
“The first half did feel really good for me,” Snyder said. “I was able to get into a little bit of a flow there offensively early.
“This game, though, we won with defense. We knew State had talent. Granted, they had lost something like eight games in a row coming in here, but they’ve always been a team which could present some challenges for us with their athleticism and their ability to beat us off of the dribble. Because of that we focused even more on our defense for tonight’s game, and it paid off.”
With Nicholson on the bench early with two fouls, Fairmont was forced to call on a couple of players to replace her. One of those was sophomore Courtney Swiger, who came in and drained a pair of 3-point baskets in the final 5:06 of the opening half to help FSU open a 39-25 lead at the break.
“She did a really good job for us tonight,” Snyder said. “Courtney’s a shooter and you’ve got to look for shooters when they’re in the game. She had six points there late in the first half coming off of the bench, which was crucial for us.”
State opened the second half with a quick 7-0 spurt in the first three minutes to trim FSU’s lead to just seven at 39-32. However, Nicholson and Hailey Garrett answered the challenge for the Lady Falcons. That duo combined for all nine points on a 9-2 Fairmont run, which pushed the advantage back to 14 at 48-34 with 13:43 left to play. After that it was never really close again.
“It was definitely a struggle there for us for a little bit at the start of the second half,” said Garrett, who posted her team-leading fifth double-double of the season, finishing with 11 points and 10 rebounds. “They got within seven and a thing went off in our heads. We knew we had to start playing and pick it up. We got down, played some defense and got some baskets in transition. Tiff did another great job for us. We know we can always count on her when we need her.”
Nicholson finished with nine points, six of which came early in the second half. She also had a team-high five steals. Briana Welch continued her solid play as well, finishing with 10 points and five rebounds, while Hallie Gunnoe chipped in seven
points and four rebounds.
State, which was held to just 32.7 percent shooting for the game from the field (17-of-52) and turned the ball over 20 times, was led by Jasmine Blanton’s 14 points. Kashauna Cook added 10 points and eight rebounds for the Lady Yellow Jackets, who have now lost nine of their last 10 games and fell to 4-9 overall and to 4-6 in the league.
FSU returns to action Thursday when it visits rival West Liberty University for a 5:30 p.m. game at the ASRC. The Lady Hilltoppers are 9-4 overall, 7-2 and ranked third in the WVIAC standings.