By Duane Cochran
For the Times West Virginian
Senior Day is always special.
Fairmont State seniors Kaitlin Snyder and Tiffany Nicholson were determined Saturday it would stay that way at the Joe Retton Arena.
Trailing last-place Ohio Valley by 10 points at the half, FSU led by Snyder, Nicholson and a host of other Lady Falcons erupted for 51 second-half points and a regular-season ending 77-70 victory over the Lady Fighting Scots.
“We were down 10 versus the last-place team in the conference and that was definitely motivation for us to come out in the second half and move the ball more which led to us getting open looks in the lane,” said Snyder, who finished with a game-high 19 points, 15 of which came after the break. “They were playing a 2-3 zone and against a zone you can’t be stagnant. In the first half I think we were a little stagnant, but in the second half our guards moved better and we shared the basketball a lot more and like I said got open looks and took advantage of them.”
The win improved the Lady Falcons to 19-9 overall and to 16-6 in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. FSU finished third in the 15-team WVIAC standings and will host an opening-round league tournament game Monday evening at 7:30 p.m. against 14th place Wheeling Jesuit University (8-18, 5-17) at the Joe Retton Arena. Tickets are $10 for the general public and $5 for students. There will be no reserved seating.
Nicholson, who finished with 16 points Saturday, including 10 in the second half, was FSU’s most successful player at finding her teammates open. The senior guard from Mannington finished with a career-high eight assists and also recorded five steals.
“I think we may have come in thinking it was going to be an easy game and it wasn’t. Our first-half performance was awful,” said Nicholson, who moved into 25th place in school history in career scoring in the win with 927 points. “We were down by a lot. In the second half we came out determined not to lose on Senior Day, especially for our seniors who don’t get to play a lot.
“In the second half we played a lot better. I like to share the ball and today I looked to do that as much as I could.”
Nicholson was able to find a number of her teammates open for crucial buckets, but one of the biggest beneficiaries was sophomore center Hailey Garrett, who finished with 16 points, 14 of which came in the second half. She also grabbed six rebounds and handed out four assists of her own.
In addition, Fairmont got 12 points and a team-high nine rebounds from sophomore forward Emily Lohr and six points and three rebounds from Hallie Gunnoe.
Ohio Valley, which dropped to 2-24 overall and to 2-20 in the league and will visit second-place West Liberty Monday evening in its WVIAC Tournament opener, outscored FSU 20-4 in the final 5:48 of the opening half to build a 36-26 lead.
In the second half, though, Fairmont came out and quickly got back within four before the Lady Fighting Scots pushed the lead back to nine at 49-40 with 12:45 left to go. At that point FSU exploded on a 20-9 run to take the lead for good at 60-58 with 6:07 remaining. Fairmont then outscored the Lady Fighting Scots, 11-6 in the game’s final 3:28 to seal the victory.
“Our kids are normal kids,” said FSU coach Steve McDonald. “They were all excited today before the game for our five seniors and they wanted to play well. But someone forgot to give Ohio Valley the memo. They came out and played really, really hard and had a lead on us which really didn’t surprise me to be honest. I think they’re very well coached.
“It also didn’t surprise me that we came back in the second half and won the game. That didn’t surprise me either because that’s basketball at this time of the year. It can be a little crazy.”
As noted, FSU will host Wheeling Jesuit Monday night. The Lady Falcons recorded a pair of close wins over Lady Cardinals during the regular season. Fairmont’s women have made appearances in the league tournament quarterfinals in nine of the last 10 years. The women’s quarterfinal round of the league tourney will begin Wednesday at the Charleston Civic Center.