The Fairmont State Falcons took advantage of a slow West Liberty start as they would jump all over the top ranked Hilltoppers. West Liberty found themselves in the deepest hole of the season down as many as 17 points. I know coach Howlett would like to see his team up in every game, but I think it was good for him to see what his team would be able to do with some real adversity. They responded very well, but in the end it was the bad start,missed opportunities and poor defense that led to Fairmont State upsetting the top ranked Hilltoppers by the final score of 98-97.
The Falcons shot out of a canon on Sunday afternoon as they went up 19-4 early on against the Nations top team. Led by Jason Jolly, the Falcons seemed just a bit quicker to every ball on every spot on the floor in the first half. Jolly would finish the half with 11 points including three from behind the arc. They were all daggers as he would hit just when the Hilltoppers were trying to make their way back into the game.
Jason Jolly is an incredible player, as he is able to not only shoot but he creates for his teamates well. He was really difficult for the Hilltoppers to manage all night.
Dalton Bolon would lead the Hilltoppers at the half including going on a mini run scoring 8 straight points for West Liberty. Those 8 points would draw the Toppers to within 9 points, but just like that the Falcons would get the lead right back up to 14. West Liberty would go into the locker room at half trailing 56-46.
The second half started well for the Hilltoppers as they would put together a 4-0 run. It seemed the game was starting to tighten up but a bad call followed by a couple turnovers and the Falcons had themselves a 14 point lead again.
Fairmont State would take advantage of a couple of floor mismatches and some continued hot shooting from behind the arc to keep that lead between 8-12 points throughout the second half.
With about 6 minutes left, the Hilltoppers went on a run and drove the lead down to 5. Dan Monteroso would be the driver for West Liberty in the second half as he would consistently get to the basket and convert.
West Liberty would continue to chip away at the lead and pull to within a basket with 30 seconds left. The last 30 seconds were back and forth and because of that, the crowd was also. The roars from both sides were incredible.
With 7 seconds left, the Topper’s James Griffin was able to get to the line shooting 2 down 2. The crowd began to scream and between the crowd and the nerves, the normally strong free throw shooter missed the first of 2. After a brief timeout, he would get the second.
On the inbounds play, the HillToppers would get the turnover and the clock stopped. After a time out, they would inbound the ball in their end of the court but the play that the coaches drew up got blown up. They would get 2 shots off, the first was blocked and the second was just off the mark. The Falcons of Fairmont state would survive the West Liberty comeback bid to knock off Number 1 by the final score of 98-97.
It was a tremendous game and both teams really did deserve to win the game. But in the end, the tough start for West Liberty was just too much to overcome. Dan Monteroso did everything he could to will the Hilltoppers over the Falcons as he scored 25 and led all players. Vonte Montgomery led the Falcons with 24 points and Cole Vonhandorf chipped in 18 hitting open shots throughout the night.
Vonhandorf was a consistent thorn in the Toppers side as he was throwing 3 point daggers all game long. West Liberty left him open all night. One of the reasons for his open shots was the ability for Fairmont to break down the Hilltoppers press.
Actually, the press went away for a while as it was consistently leaving the Falcons 2 on 1 or 3 on 1 situations that they were converting on.
Although Dalton Bolon had a strong first half, he had a tough game scoring just 13 points. The Falcons cut him down in the second half holding him to a basket. Bolon would also foul out although that 5th foul was an awful call. Bolon got 2 fould calls on the ground as he was going for loose balls. As for bad calls, There were a few of those tonight. The guys in stripes did not have a great game. Though, in their defense, they were equally bad for both teams.
For Coach Ben Howlett, it was his first loss of his career… as a head coach. And for The Hilltoppers, they suffered their first loss of the season. A loss that will likely have them drop a couple of spots in the polls this coming week.
West Liberty still has a firm grip on the MEC and will host UVA-Wise then Concord this week.