Fairmont Ousts West Liberty in MEC Tourney
Brown nears triple-double in 64-55 defeat
CHARLESTON — It didn’t take long for West Liberty women’s basketball coach Kyle Cooper to realize Thursday night’s Mountain East Conference Tournament game against Fairmont State wasn’t going to be played to his liking. The Falcons jumped to an 18-point first-half lead and held on down the stretch for a 64-55 victory against the Hilltoppers in a quarterfinal matchup at the Charleston Civic Center.
“They came at us early and it was a physical, brutal game,” Cooper said as his first year concluded. “You have to match that intensity and that physicality.
“But when it turns into that type of game, it turns into 1-on-1. When it turns into a 1-on-1 game, that doesn’t favor us.”
West Liberty led 7-6 before Fairmont went on a 17-3 run to break it open. During that stretch the No. 4 Hilltoppers (13-16) missed 15 consecutive shots in what was a sign of things to come. All told, ,West Liberty shot 24.2 percent and made 15 field goals.
“If we played them in a week, they would probably make the necessary adjustments to what we were doing,” Falcons (16-13) coach Steve McDonald said. “Everything we worked on in practice this week was predicated on trying to stop Marissa Brown.
“We couldn’t let Marissa have a 30- or 40-point night.”
Brown didn’t, in part because Fairmont’s defense made her catch entry passes further away from the block than she is accustomed.
“I thought we did a really good job against her and then I look at the stat sheet and she scored 23 points, had 15 rebounds and eight blocks,” McDonald said. “She is a really, really good basketball player.”
The Falcons, who themselves struggled to the tune of a 33.3-percent clip, only led 29-20 at halftime. That’s when Brown started to get going, and coincidentally the Hilltoppers started to rally.
Brown scored twice inside, the second on a putback, as WLU cut the deficit to 40-37. That’s as close as West Liberty got, however, as on the next Fairmont possession MEC Freshman of the Year Sierra Kotchman drained three of her team-high 20 points.
Brooke Kurucz tallied four points during the latter stages of the third quarter as the No. 5 Falcons went to the fourth with a 48-41 advantage.
“They did a really nice job of taking us out of our transition game,” Cooper said while pointing to his team’s two fastbreak points. “I want to compliment Coach McDonald and his team because they played lights out.
“People talk about stats and a couple great plays, but winning is about how hard you play. They played extremely hard for 40 minutes and that is not something that’s easy to do.”
McKenna Shives opened the fourth quarter with a deep 3 — her only basket in 10 attempts — to cut the deficit to 48-44. But the Falcons answered with five points in a row — three by Kelli Jo Harrison, who finished with a double-double of 17 points and 14 rebounds — and that quickly the margin was back out to nine.
“We’ve been to Charleston in 16 of my 18 years,” McDonald said. “But this is a very, very young team. We lost 98 percent of everything from last year and none of these kids started.
“We started out the conference season 0-4. It’s a classic line, but I am so proud of these kids.”
Kurucz added 11 points for the Falcons. Brandi Beader was the only other Hilltopper in double figures with 16 points, including a 10 of 11 showing at the free-throw line.
“We started to run out of gas a little bit,” Cooper said. “When the game is as physical as it was, it takes a toll on you because you have to play that much harder on both ends.”