Times West Virginian
Fairmont State took over second place in the 15-team West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference standings with a convincing 79-59 road victory over Concord University Saturday afternoon here at the Carter Center.
The streaking Falcons, who have won four straight and seven of their last eight outings, improved to 9-3 overall and to 7-1 in the league. FSU trails unbeaten West Liberty, the No. 1 ranked team in the nation, in the conference standings. The Hilltoppers, who were idle Saturday are 14-0 overall and 8-0 in the league. West Liberty will host FSU this Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at ASRC.
First, however, Fairmont has an important showdown with West Virginia State Monday evening at 7:30 p.m. the Joe Retton Arena. The Falcons are just 1-5 in their last six meetings with the Yellow Jackets. FSU's last victory over West Virginia State was in 2010.
Saturday, Fairmont continued its progression as a team. For the third straight time FSU seized control of the game early and didn't let up as it rolled to the 20-point win.
“We've taken the approach that we've got to get better every day in practice and I thought we had some tremendous practices leading up to this game,” said first-year Fairmont State head coach Jerrod Calhoun. “Our attention to detail has been terrific and I think we're playing really well at the right time. Good teams play well in January and we're doing that. This is a crucial stretch of games for us. We're not looking ahead by any means because we've got a big, big game Monday night at home against West Virginia State which is a team which just beat Shepherd at home at the buzzer.
“I used a little quote from Nick Saban this weekend to inspire our kids. I'm reading his book right now and I told our guys we've got to prepare very hard for teams and out-work teams in practices so that when we get into the games we're going to be ready to go. I think they've bought into it and that's good for us.”
Against Concord, Fairmont opened a 37-22 advantage with 3:32 left in the first half before the Mountain Lions rallied and closed the gap to just seven at 37-30 at the break. In the second half, however, led by Isaac Thornton, Isaiah Hill, Malik Stith and Brendan Cooper FSU wasted little time extending its lead to 18 thanks to a 15-4 spurt to start the final 20 minutes.
Thornton scored eight of his game-high 18 points during that 5:20 span.
“Give our coaching staff credit for challenging us to play hard and aggressive and give Malik credit for coming up with some steals and getting us going on the break there,” said Thornton. “He does that very well. He's a point guard who can score, but also he does a great job of getting everyone else involved.”
Concord, though, didn't quit. Instead, the Mountain Lions rallied and closed the gap to 10 at 56-46 with 11:23 left to play. Fairmont, however, answered the challenge with stingy defense and aggressive offense to outscore Concord 20-10 over the course of the next nine minutes to extend its lead to 20.
“Our defense is a work in progress and we'd like to think we're getting better at it,” said Thornton, who along with his teammates has been part of an FSU defense which has held three straight opponents below 60 points. “I've said before that defense is the heart of this team and we've got to keep working on it and keep getting better at it. We know we haven't seen the better or higher-ranked teams in the league yet, but we're taking games one at a time and trying to make ourselves better, not only on defense but in all areas.”
Hill finished with 16 points and six rebounds for Fairmont. Ten of his points came in the second half. The Falcons also got 15 points, six rebounds and four assists from Cooper and 12 points, seven assists and four steals from Stith before he fouled out with 3:35 left to play.
Stevie Browning, Ke'Chaun Lewis, Chase Morgan and Andrew Gunnoe all added four points apiece for the Falcons.
Concord, which didn't help itself in the contest by going just 18-of-34 at the foul line (52.9 percent), was led by Mike Boyd's 16 points and five rebounds. Damien Tunstalle was the only other Mountain Lion to reach double figures in the scoring column. He finished with 11 points and six rebounds.
As noted, FSU returns home Monday for a 7:30 p.m. battle with West Virginia State at the Joe Retton Arena.