By Doug Comer
For the Times West Virginian
“Mental toughness is many things and rather difficult to explain. Its qualities are sacrifice and self-denial. Also, most importantly, it is combined with a perfectly disciplined will that refuses to give in. It’s a state of mind — you could call it ‘character in action.’”
That’s a quote from Vince Lombardi, arguably one of the greatest coaches of all time.
And if Lombardi would have walked into the visiting locker room at Robert C. Byrd, he would look at Fairmont Senior head coach David Retton and simply say, “It has been achieved.”
The Polar Bears (8-3) left the Clarksburg city limits with a hard fought “W” against a state-ranked Big-10 foe in Robert C. Byrd by a score of 65-60 Tuesday. Not because they were a better team or outplayed their opponent. Point blank — they were a “tougher” team.
“You can’t teach toughness, and Fairmont showed that they were a tougher team out there tonight,” related a dejected RCB head coach Bill Bennett. “We had it at a one-possession game late in the fourth quarter, but Fairmont Senior was able to find ways to stretch the lead. Their toughness was the definite factor in their victory.”
The Flying Eagles, who ran step-for-step with the visitors in the first half, appeared to lose composure in the early part of the second half as Fairmont Senior stretched a three-point halftime lead to 38-30 at the midway mark of the third quarter.
Fairmont’s Jarin Hilson upped the tempo a notch and pushed the transition game into the Bears’ advantage. Six quick points midway through the third helped widen the gap. Travon Horton, who was quiet in the first half, was an integral part in the 18-13 run in the quarter.
“There was a lot of intensity and two very good teams went after each other tonight,” Retton said. “We rebounded well in the second half, especially the third quarter. We had different guys go out and do different things. Whether it was a box out or a rebound or a transition basket, someone stepped up and got it done. Travon (Horton) had some big finishes for us and was a leader in the third-quarter run we had. He was outstanding and came up big in all categories.”
Host Robert C. Byrd, who fell to 8-3, did have its share of opportunities in the second half.
Senior swingman Nick Dyer had the most offensive impact in the game for the Eagles when it counted. His 14 points, including four boards, kept the hosts close throughout the game. He was complemented by the play of Iziah Hill, who scored 14 points as well to lead the Eagles.
Four starters reached double figures in scoring for Fairmont Senior. Shaquille Washington, who dominated the boards all night for the Polar Bears, had 11 rebounds to go with 18 points for the night. Travon Horton scored 16 points and seven boards, while Hilson and Devante Waites each added 15 and 10, respectively.
From the opening tipoff, the game was destined to be a hard-fought contest. Two different styles of play — Byrd likes to run a half court set offense, while the Polar Bears prefer to run the transition. Both teams were successful in the opening period of play as each team scored 13 points to keep the game tied after one period of play.
The hosts did jump out to a 6-3 advantage early on in the first, while the Bears closed the quarter with a buzzer-beater jumper from Washington to knot the contest.
“We came out strong and played well against the Bears,” Bennett said. “Hill was productive for us and the team defended well against their offense. Besides the defensive breakdown at the end of the quarter, I was happy with the output we gave in the first.”
At the start of the second quarter, both teams continued to go toe-for-toe and kept things interesting. Fairmont Senior scored five points late in the second quarter to widen the gap to 31-26. A Hilson drive to the basket and the “old fashioned” 3-point play capped off the run.
RCB answered in the closing seconds when Devin Langford scored in the closing seconds to cut the lead to three.
At the start of the final frame, the Eagles needed some offense to fight off a runaway. And the hosts answered, scoring 15 points from beyond the arch.
Reserve player Kevin Steele had two trifectas in the period, while Hill and Nick Dyer added one each. Freshman point guard Luke Dyer scored a late three to close the game to a 3-point game at 63-60.
However, a composed Polar Bear team was able to hit some late free throws to send the game out of reach.
Fairmont Senior travels to Philip Barbour on Thursday while the Eagles host East Fairmont.