By Duane Cochran
Times West Virginian
Thursday evening’s West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference showdown between second-place Fairmont State and third-place Alderson-Broaddus at the Joe Retton Arena was everything everyone expected it to be.
The two league powers went after each other like a pair of prized fighters and when the final bell sounded it was one of the smallest players on the floor who made the biggest difference and helped lead the Falcons to a crucial 81-73 victory.
“I thought Malik (Stith) was the difference tonight,” said FSU coach Jerrod Calhoun. “Any time we needed a basket or he needed to get to the rim he got it done. We spread them out and he did the job for us.”
Stith, Fairmont’s senior point guard, scored a team-high 22 points, including 15 in the second half to help the Falcons improve to 18-5 overall, 16-3 in the league and increase their stronghold on second place in the conference standings.
“It was a grind-it-out game, especially in the second half, and I think what really helped us out is we got to the free-throw line tonight a lot — probably the most we have all year and for the most part we converted on them,” said Stith, who himself went 10-of-11 at the charity stripe. “I tried to be aggressive tonight right from the start and attack the rim when it was there. I just wanted to try to get us off to a good start and get us moving.
“Later I had another little burst where I got a couple of baskets and assists. Basically I just want to be aggressive from here on out. It’s the end of the season and it’s time to go. We can’t afford to lose. That’s pretty much going to be my motto.”
When Stith wasn’t doing damage for FSU attacking the glass, Isaac Thornton was. The senior guard finished with 21 points, 12 of which came in the final half.
“We knew this game was going to be a dogfight,” said Thornton. “We knew we had to execute on offense because they’re a good defensive team and we knew we had to play good defense too because they’re good offensively as well. It really was just a grind out win for us.
“Malik did a good job of being aggressive and getting inside for us tonight on dribble penetration. I just tried to do the same thing and make some plays for us down the stretch.”
Brendan Cooper added 13 points, five rebounds and five assists for the Falcons. He scored nine of his points in the second half, including a 4-of-4 performance at the foul line in the final 46 seconds to help FSU seal the victory. Fairmont State also got nine points from senior center Isaiah Hill before he fouled out with 1:36 left to play and seven points and five boards from Stevie Browning.
Alderson-Broaddus was led by Kurklin Bohanon’s game-high 25 points, 20 of which came in the second half. The Battlers, who fell to 16-7 overall and to 14-5 in the WVIAC, also got 11 points from Roy Brown and 10 from Malcolm Tatum.
Both teams shot 50 percent from the field and FSU held a one rebound advantage on the glass. A-B connected on 6-of-19 3-point field goals, while Fairmont made just 1-of-5 attempts from long range. The difference in the contest was FSU’s aggressive style of attacking the basket which earned the Falcons a season-high 38 trips to the foul line where they converted on 28 of them. The Battlers, on the other hand, were just 15-of-20 at the foul line.
“This was a huge win for us and now we’ve got to get ready for another big one here Saturday,” said Calhoun.
The Falcons entertain league-leading and No. 3 ranked West Liberty Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m. at the Joe Retton Arena. The contest will be televised live on ROOT Sports Pittsburgh.
West Liberty comes to town Saturday with a 23-1 overall record and a 17-1 league mark. The Hilltoppers have won nine in a row since a 101-96 loss to the University of Charleston back on Jan. 14. Included among those victories was an 82-77 win over Fairmont State on Jan. 17 in West Liberty.