By Duane Cochran
Times West Virginian
Fairmont State University called for a “White Out” Thursday night at the Joe Retton Arena against the visiting University of Charleston Golden Eagles.
FSU’s goal was to pack its gym with the largest crowd of the season and asked them to wear white shirts.
More than 3,000 fans turned out last night to support Fairmont State and they were treated to a thrilling 83-81 victory by the Falcons in the battle of the birds.
The win, FSU’s fourth in a row and its ninth in 10 outings, improved the Falcons to 14-4 overall and to 12-2 in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. It also helped Fairmont State secure its hold on second place in the 15-team league standings.
Charleston, on the other hand, fell to 13-5 overall and to 9-5 in the WVIAC.
“They (UC) came out on fire tonight, but I want to give a lot of credit for this win to the fans because we had so many people come out tonight to support us and that’s what gave us the energy to push through the game and get the win,” said FSU’s Chase Morgan, who came off the bench and scored 18 points, including 10 in the second half.
None, however, were bigger than his two free throws on a crucial one-and-one with 3.3 seconds remaining to help FSU open an 83-78 lead and seal the victory.
Prior to the free throws Morgan was given the ball and then officials blew their whistles and took it away from him thinking UC had called for a timeout. Golden Eagle coach Mark Downey denied calling the timeout and said he was signaling for his team to rebound. UC’s Evan Faulkner, however, misunderstood his coach and did call time, forcing Morgan to the bench to wait a little longer.
“You know I didn’t even think about that,” said Morgan, an 87.5 percent free-throw shooter who was also a perfect 4-of-4 on 3-point field goals in the win. “Honestly I wanted them to call a timeout. I’m the type of player that when I get to the free-throw line if you’re going to give me more time to look at it then I’m going to knock it down even more than the first time I was there. I’m confident in my free-throw shooting, and my teammates are confident in me in that situation.
“My goodness this was fun tonight. It was the most fun I’ve had in a game in years.”
UC trimmed the final margin to two when FSU’s Isaiah Hill was called for goaltending a Terrell Lipkins 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Charleston came out red-hot last night and canned eight of its first nine 3-point field goal attempts to open a 31-28 lead with seven minutes left in the opening half. FSU, however, kept pace thanks Hill, Morgan and Isaac Thornton, who combined for six treys in the first 20 minutes. Thornton finished with 19 points for Fairmont, 11 of which came in the first half. FSU made a season-high 10 3-pointers in the win, while Charleston canned 12.
“We knew they were going to come in here excited and looking to play well,” said Hill, who had a trio of threes in the opening half and scored 18 of his team-high 20 points in the first half. “We knew it was going to be a tough game, but we practiced hard and prepared very well for it and Chase and I just went out and hit some big shots for us.”
After falling behind early, Fairmont closed the half on a 19-9 run to open a 47-40 lead at the break.
In the second half FSU extended its lead to as many as 13 before UC mounted a big comeback. Trailing 77-68 after a jumper by FSU’s Malik Stith with 2:43 remaining, the Golden Eagles reeled off eight unanswered points to close the gap to just one at 77-76 with 1:50 to play.
Stith, Fairmont’s senior point guard, then took over for the Falcons. He canned an 18-foot jumper with 1:13 left and after a UC turnover attacked the rim under heavy pressure and got a power layup to fall to make it 81-76 with 29 seconds left.
“It was definitely a good stretch for me,” said Stith, who finished with 12 points, six rebounds and five assists. “I wasn’t that aggressive in the first half, but I had a couple of assists because Zeke (Hill) and everyone was hitting so I was trying to set them up.
“I try to pick and choose my spots. At the end of the game I figured it was time for me to take some shots. I saw some lanes and tried to take advantage of them.”
UC cut it to 81-78 on a layup by Fred Simpson with 4.9 seconds left, but then Morgan sealed the victory with his two free throws.
“I thought it was a great game,” said first-year FSU coach Jerrod Calhoun. “I want to thank all of our fans. They did a great job for us tonight. Our entire football team was here and I think that really set the tone for us. Our kids were excited to play in front of a packed house.
“We knew it was going to be a good game. That’s a very well-coached team, an NCAA Tournament team. Lipkins is a great player and they have a good supporting cast around him.”
Lipkins led UC with a game-high 29 points, 15 of which came off five 3-pointers. Evan Faulkner added 22 points, 15 of which came on threes. The Golden Eagles also got 13 points from Quincy Washington.
FSU will be back in action Saturday when it travels to Buckhannon to face West Virginia Wesleyan in a 4 p.m. game at the Rockefeller Center.