FAIRMONT, W.Va. – The Fairmont Falcons use a 56-point second half to upset nationally ranked No. 8 West Liberty, 101-76, in front of 1,358 fans. The Falcons’ (12-4, 7-3 MEC) victory Saturday afternoon became their first home victory over the Hilltoppers since 2018, snapping a three-game skid. It was also the Hilltoppers first conference loss this season.
It had been nearly 700 days since the West Liberty (14-2, 9-1 MEC) finished below 80 points. Fairmont State answered the call by holding the Hilltoppers to shooting a season-low 36 percent.
“I thought our togetherness was great,” said Fairmont State head coach Tim Koenig. “[West Liberty] missed shots they normally make. Our defensive rotations were good. However, we did have some lapses with taking care of the ball, especially when we attacked their press, but I thought we handled the press well.”
“It was a great team win,” added veteran Falcon guard Isaiah Sanders. “We executed our game plan well. My teammates found me, and we found each other. It was an all-around solid win for us.”
Eight of West Liberty’s first 10 points came from forward Ben Saron, including back-to-back triples.
The Hilltoppers’ largest and longest lead came early in the first half when they saw their lead reach six about three minutes into the game.
Fairmont State and West Liberty would trade leads throughout the first 20 minutes. However, it was only when a Zyon Dobbs triple gave the Falcons the lead. Dobbs finished the game with 13 points.
FSU would out-score the Hilltoppers 12-to-4 in the final six minutes of the first half. The Falcons would go into the break ahead by eight, 45-37.
An early momentum swing came in the first minute and a half of the second half as Fairmont State opened up on a 7-to-0 run. Koenig saw that as the boost his team needed.
“When you play those guys, they are good that when you get up, it does not matter because there are so many possessions,” Koenig noted. “We wanted to play each play. It sounds like coach talk, but it was great. However, we needed to get the next one because they are dangerous.”
West Liberty started picking up steam, but the Hilltoppers still found themselves down 11 following two made free throws from Bryce Butler.
Fairmont State’s Briggs Parris connected on two consecutive threes in less than two minutes to stretch the Falcons’ lead back out to 14, 64-50.
The closest the Hilltoppers got was 13 points, following a triple from Zach Rasile at the 8:01 mark. Fairmont State would lead by as many as 26 points late in the game.
Sanders led all scorers with 30 points shooting an efficient 75 percent from the floor and 70 percent from long distance. He also finished with a team-high seven rebounds and four steals.
“I would not say it was one of my more comfortable games, but I did know I had to step up,” Sanders noted. “It felt good, and I felt good following my first basket.”
“He was relentless,” Koenig added. “He dove for loose balls, grabbed rebounds, and made shots. He had great leadership, and you could see that during the game. I am proud of him for keeping the guys together.”
Fairmont State’s bench combined for 28 points Saturday afternoon, including a 17 points performance from Parris. Parris connected on five triples, shooting 45 percent from deep.
“That is what Briggs does,” Koenig said. “We are going to play David [Jolinder] more. We were going to play Tariq [Woody] more, but the matchup was tough. [West Liberty] hurt us when he was in the first half. Tommy Williams also made great contributions. We believe in those guys and are confident in our bench.”
Butler, last year’s Mountain East Conference Player of the Year, was held to 14 points, shooting 50 percent from the floor. Koenig was encouraged by his team’s defensive display against the Latrobe, PA native.
“You cannot play him one-on-one,” Koenig stated. “We did the best we could. When he was driving, we tried to help. You cannot play with only one guy on him. We put different guys on him for different looks. He is a great player. We did our best to keep him in front of us. He is difficult to keep in front. We played great defense, but he still scored.”
Christian Montague led the Hilltoppers in scoring with 15 points. Malik McKinney and Saron each had 13 points.