FAIRMONT, W.Va. — At 8-1 overall and fresh off its fifth victory of the season by 39 or more points, the Fairmont Senior boys basketball team has established itself as a Class AA contender nearing the midpoint of the regular season.
Oddly enough, the Polar Bears’ 95-56 win at Elkins on Tuesday was the team’s fourth closest victory to date — a contest that was never in jeopardy and marked the third straight win for FSHS.
But in the two wins prior, the Polar Bears were forced to do something they hadn’t done through their first six games — make plays down the stretch to earn a victory.
Following a 49-46 loss at Chapmanville on Dec. 22 in a rematch of last year’s state title game, Fairmont Senior was out of action until Jan. 3, when it traveled across town to square off with rival East Fairmont. While the 64-49 win over the Bees suggests FSHS had its way, the course of the contest told an entirely different story. With two minutes remaining in the third quarter, East Fairmont held a 45-37 lead.
The Bees, who were shooting better than 60 percent from the field entering the fourth quarter, were outscored 27-4 over the game’s final 10 minutes as the Polar Bears used one of their trademark runs to take control.
“I think it helps us,” Fairmont Senior coach David Retton said. “Would we like to have 25, 35 and 40-point wins? Yes, but are you battle-tested in those games? Games like this get us battle tested and ready for the next game.”
Two days later, the Polar Bears traveled south to clash with Big 10 Conference rival Robert C. Byrd. In that game, FSHS was clinging to a 27-18 halftime lead before the Eagles mounted a comeback that saw them pull to within 48-44 with 5:10 left. The Polar Bears then prevented the Eagles from making another field goal and produced enough offense to come away with a 54-46 win.
“We know how good they are and I told the kids the mistakes that we made are stuff we can fix,” RCB coach Bill Bennett said. “But when you make mistakes, they take advantage and make you pay for it and that’s what we’d been doing to people. There were a lot of little things that you just can’t have happen to beat a good team and that’s a really good team.”
A year ago, the Polar Bears took a perfect 24-0 record into the Class AA state championship, only to fall short against Chapmanville 69-60. Fairmont Senior no longer has last year’s Evans Award winner, Taevon Horton, who has moved on to play at West Virginia University.
However, the Polar Bears do feature four seniors in this year’s starting lineup, including three with a wealth of experience that are considered among the state’s better players.
In guards Zyon Dobbs and Dasilas Jones and 6-foot-8 wing Jalen Bridges, the Polar Bears possess a trio plenty capable of taking games over on both ends of the floor.
Dobbs, Jones and Bridges combined for 63 points against Elkins, with Dobbs and Bridges scoring 25 apiece. In the win over RCB, Bridges had a game-high 21 points, while Dobbs added 17 points, six assists and five rebounds.
“Zyon made a series of plays we needed because the momentum was getting in Byrd’s favor and we were able to get that back,” Retton said.
Jones was also a big factor against the Eagles with 10 points and four assists, while the aforementioned trio combined for 45 points against the Bees.
With FSHS averaging more than 81 points per game and surrendering fewer than 47, there are likely an abundance of lopsided wins to come. And as much as the Polar Bears would have liked to win at Chapmanville, having the first loss out of the way and not dealing with the pressure of a potential undefeated season could be a plus.
“What we wanted to do with that game moving forward is use it as a springboard for us. Improve on scenarios where we felt in the game that sometimes with our transition defense we left shooters, or maybe didn’t make the right read offensively,” Retton said. “It’s real easy to look at plays in the last thirty seconds, but there are plays that happen throughout the course of the game that contribute to the final score.”