Fairmont State blasts Frostburg State 109-85 in regular season finale; enters MEC Tournament as No. 2 seed

Bradley Heltzel, Times West Virginian, Fairmont
·5 min read

Feb. 28—FAIRMONT — Throughout the entirety of the respective collegiate careers of Fairmont State basketball's six seniors, excellence has been held as the standard and dominance has been promoted as the goal. And on Saturday, with those six seniors being recognized as part of Senior Day against visiting Frostburg State, the Falcons collectively put forth a master class in both as they blew the doors off the Bobcats 109-85 in their regular season finale.

"I'm just so happy for the team and the guys, especially those seniors," said Fairmont State second-year Tim Koenig. "I'm kind of at a loss for words from that standpoint — I'm just so grateful for what they've done both before I got here and obviously since I've been here. They welcomed me with open arms and that's not always the case.

"That's just the tradition of the program. There have been great players and coaches and you don't want to get in the way of that — I just want to keep living that great Fairmont State tradition. And those guys and this culture, I mean you saw it with guys diving on the floor when we're up 35. It's special, it's very special."

The Falcons (12-4) rolled the Bobcats (4-12) right from the start despite playing on the second night of a back-to-back and their fifth game in eight days. They vaulted out to an initial 8-0 lead and went up by as many as 17 just 10 minutes on what was a ceremonial day for the program's six recognized seniors of the injured Kenzie Melko, graduate assistant coach Donald Kummer, and players Cole VonHandorf, Steven Solomon, Jack Kelsheimer and Ilisa Washington.

"We've been going after since August and we prepare for moments like that. Getting ready for the (MEC) tournament, it's going to be the same thing where we got a game every day or every other day — it's nothing different — so we've been prepared for this. That's how we had that energy," said junior forward Isaiah Sanders.

"That's who we are," Koenig said. "We kind of our lost our way and maybe thought we were a little better than we were for a couple of games, but that's our identity is to out-hustle and out-scrap teams; you saw when we don't do that, we're just not as good, but when we do do it, we're pretty darn good. And today, (players) 1 through 16 really hustled and really scrapped throughout the entire game."

Fairmont's defense was absolutely stifling to start the game, as the Falcons first flustered Frostburg with its full-court press and then locked down the Bobcats in the half court. Frostburg State didn't even crack 15 points until 15 minutes into the game as the Falcons' discipline and sturdiness defensively forced the Bobcats into a hodgepodge of subpar shot attempts and multiple shot clock violations.

For the game, Frostburg State shot just 37% from the field, including a mere 24.3% in the first half.

"We guarded the ball and kept it in front," Koenig said. "(Aygei) Edwards is their guy and he hit some really tough shots, but you live with that; I mean, those guarded stepback 3s you have to live with, but for the most part we kept the ball out of the paint. We had a couple of breakdowns obviously throughout the game, but for the most part we kept it out of the paint and rebounded the ball. It was very good team win."

From that stinginess on the defensive end, the Falcons unearthed a series of highlights in transition on the other, as they spring boarded into the open court for breakaway dunks, and-one finishes, and pull-up triples. Fairmont State, which led by 27 at halftime and by as many as 37 midway through the second half, outshot Frostburg 51.6% to 37% and owned a 26-15 advantage in transition to power the runaway victory.

Sophomore Dale Bonner led the Falcons with a double-double of 26 points and 10 rebounds on 8-of-10 shooting, including a blistering 5-of-5 from 3, while also dishing three assists. Alongside Bonner's 26 points, four more Falcons scored in double figures, with Sanders scoring 17 points, VonHandorf adding 15 points, Seth Younkin chipping in 12 points, and Zyon Dobbs tallying 11 points.

As a team, Fairmont State had 13 players score in the game, including each of the team's four active seniors in VonHandorf (15 points), Solomon (8 points), Kelsheimer (3 points) and Washington (2 points).

"It was really fun," Sanders said. "Everybody comes to practice everyday and works hard, so when you see guys that might not always get the opportunity to go out there all the time and they do good things, it's great to see."

"They all come to practice the same way we do, and they work just as hard," Bonner said. "So we wanted to try to reward them by letting them play as much as they could today."

Frostburg State's Edwards scored a game-high 29 points on 9-of-18 shooting, had eight rebounds and three steals. The Bobcats also got 11 points from Canaan Bartley.

Fairmont State now prepares for the MEC Tournament, which starts on Monday. The Falcons, however, will be off until the quarterfinal round as the MEC North Division's No. 2 seed, where they'll take on South Division No. 3 seed West Virginia State on Friday at 8 p.m. at WesBanco Arena in Wheeling.

Email Bradley Heltzel at bheltzel@timeswv.com or follow him on Twitter @bradheltzTWV.