MEC Men’s Basketball Quarterfinal Recap

The Free Press WV

Fairmont State 81, Shepherd 54

All-conference first-teamer Vonte Montgomery scored 17 points and pulled down a game-high 15 rebounds – his fourth straight game with 14 or more – and No. 2 Fairmont (22-7) used a stifling defensive effort to lead wire-to-wire in an 81-54 Mountain East Conference quarterfinal victory against No. 7 Shepherd (14-16) on Friday at WesBanco Arena.

The Falcons led 34-28 at halftime but opened the second half on runs of 10-0 and 22-5 to eliminate any suspense in terms of the game’s outcome. Fairmont limited the Rams to 32.3-percent shooting. If not for a late Thomas Lang 3-pointer, Shepherd would have tied a tournament record for the lowest single-game point total of 51.

“We played well, won and did what we were supposed to do,” FSU coach Joe Mazzulla said. “We stuck to our defensive identity for most of the game. The difference in the first half, is we gave up some momentum plays.

“In the second half we were guarding much more appropriately’’

With a game-high 19 points Jason Jolly, also an All-MEC first-teamer, led five players in double figures for the Falcons, who knocked off the Rams for the 15th consecutive time. The schools have met twice in the conference tournament with Fairmont winning by 25 or more each time.

“It’s been an emphasis since August but they decided to listen now,” Mazzulla joked about his team’s intensity. “Our team takes on the identity of our seniors who are our best players.”

Fairmont, which shot 50.8 percent and won the battle in the paint, 44-24, started the second half with two of Cole VonHandorf’s 12 points and was off and running. Montgomery tallied and Jolly cashed a couple of technical free throws before Montgomery went to the line and drilled two more prior to Vince Franklin capping that lightning-quick 10-0 run that turned a six-point halftime lead into a 16-point bulge.

On the other end the Rams were struggling to get anything going offensively, thanks in large part to the Falcons refusing to give them anything in transition. Fairmont outscored Shepherd, 13-0, in fast-break points.

“I really liked where we were at halftime being down six,” Shepherd coach Justin Namolik said. “Unfortunately the start of the second half was kind of a tale of how we played the whole second half.

“We have a turnover and they go the other way and score.”

The Falcons march continued as Kenzie Melko netted four of his 11 and Jolly followed with four straight free throws – two on a technical foul – on the backend of another VanHandorf bucket in transition.

The lead grew to as much as 37 on three free throws from Jolly that made it 76-39 with 5:29 remaining. It’s at that point Mazzulla emptied his bench.

At last year’s tournament the Falcons were eliminated quickly. Montgomery said that knowledge did not play a factor.
“Last year was last year,” he said. “As far as this group right here, we have our heads on straight.

“We just came out and played hard.’’

Jolly concurred.

“We had the same record last year coming into the tournament, but it’s weird to see how different our mindset is from last year to this year,” he said. “We’re more comfortable in our environment and we’re playing well together.’’

Andrew Emrick added 15 points for the Falcons, including a crowd-pleasing around-the-back basket in transition. Derek McKnight paced the Rams with 14 points while Lang netted 10 and Devin Smith scored 10.

But the story was Fairmont’s defense.

“We weren’t good enough but they made it hard for us to score,” Namolik said. “You have give them credit but we can’t turn the ball over and not get second-chance points.

“They have some size when they go big and it makes it tougher. The defense was the difference.”

Notre Dame 98, West Virginia State 77

Third-seeded Notre Dame College took advantage of hot shooting and balanced scoring to roll past sixth-seeded West Virginia State 98-77 here Friday afternoon in the quarterfinal round of the Mountain East Conference Basketball Tournament at WesBanco Arena.

The victory improved Notre Dame to 20-8 on the year and puts the Falcons in Saturday’s semifinals against second-seeded Fairmont State at 8:15 p.m. Notre Dame and FSU split their regular-season meetings with each team winning on its home court. Fairmont State (22-7) reached the semifinals by eliminating seventh-seeded Shepherd University, 81-54, Friday.

West Virginia State, meanwhile, ended the season at 12-16.

Notre Dame wasted little time imposing its will on the Yellow Jackets Friday. The Falcons shot a season-high 60.3 percent from the field (41-of-68) and had 22 assists on their 41 field goals. All five starters for Notre Dame reached double figures in scoring led by senior center Will Vorhees, who recorded his league-leading 21st double-double of the season. Vorhees, who also went over 800 points scored for the season Friday, finished with a game-high 23 points and 11 rebounds.

“It was a really good win for us against a good team with a lot of athletes,” NDC coach Tim Koenig said. “Their press hurt us the second game at their place, but today I thought we handled it well. Anytime you can win in a tournament it’s a big-time win.

“We’ll rest up, enjoy it for a little bit tonight, but we’ve got our work cut out for us tomorrow. We’re looking forward to it though.”

The Falcons used a 19-7 spurt during a 6:11 span early in the first half to wipe out State’s only lead of the game and open a double-digit 23-12 advantage with 11:18 left in the first half. State got the lead back down to seven, but in this contest every time the Yellow Jackets made a run at the Falcons they had an answer. NDC got its first-half lead up to as many as 19 before settling for a 14-point, 47-33, advantage at the break.

In the second half State mounted another rally and trimmed a 20-point Notre Dame lead to 11 twice with over 10 minutes to go. The Falcons, however, never panicked. Instead, they calmly and methodically extended the margin back to 18 in a four-minute span and eventually got it to a game-high 21 points.

“Something we’ve stressed all year is handling other team’s runs,” Vorhees said. “We knew they were going to go on a run eventually. This is a good league with good players who make shots. You just have to withstand it, stayed focused and match their run with a run of your own which we did today.”

West Virginia State junior guard Ernest Jenkins says every time his team tried to challenge Notre Dame Friday the Falcons had an answer.

“It’s something we’ve done all year, fight our way back into games, but today I just don’t think our mental focus was there,” Jenkins, who led the Yellow Jackets with 19 points, said. “Notre Dame is a good team. They execute very well and when you’ve got someone like Will (Vorhees) and other guys are all hitting shots they’re very hard to stop.

“We did get it back to like 10 or 11, but then we had a mental lapse and in the next few minutes they had it back to 17 or 18. We just need to learn to do a better job of staying focused and staying locked in.”

Notre Dame, which outscored State 50-24 in the paint in the game, also got 22 points and eight rebounds from Isaiah Sanders, 16 points and six boards from Drew Scarberry, 15 points, six rebounds and six assists from Bruce Hodges and 14 points and five assists from Larenz Thurman.

“We pride ourselves on moving the ball and playing as a team and against a pressing team and zone team like they are you really have to pass the ball and cut,” NDC junior guard/forward Drew Scarberry said. “We have guys who understand their role, understand who needs the ball at what point and how to move the ball. We did a great job of that today.”

State got 16 points and six rebounds from Isaiah Noel. He got 14 of his points in the second half and was the only player besides Jenkins to reach double figures in scoring for the Yellow Jackets.

“We just basically didn’t play tough enough today,” said State coach Bryan Poore. “I thought they were the tougher team. We also didn’t execute. When you’re playing against a team like Notre Dame and you don’t play tough or execute you’re going to get beat and you’re going to get beat soundly and we did.”

West Liberty 100, Wheeling Jesuit 79

Following a slow start, top-seeded West Liberty used a frenzied crowd of mostly black-and-gold clad fans to its advantage and went on to a third victory in as many tries against young and upcoming Ohio Valley rival Wheeling Jesuit. The Hilltoppers (25-3), ranked No. 5 in the country, closed the first half on a 19-4 run and started the second by scoring 19 of the first 26 points on their way to beating the No. 9-seeded Cardinals in a MEC Tournament quarterfinal at WesBanco Arena.

“I thought for the first 10 minutes we were nervous because we’ve never shot here and we’ve never played here,” WLU coach Ben Howlett said. “We were really struggling and I thought after that first 10 minutes we played West Liberty basketball.

“We were getting turnovers in our press, we were flying around making 3s and we were getting easy shots. When you beat a team by 21 points – not only a team but your crosstown rival – you take that.

“I’m really proud of the way our guys played. I thought we played hard for the majority of the game.’’

Wheeling Jesuit (9-21), which started the season 2-17, took advantage of that slow start by building a 19-13 lead when freshman Franck Kamgain tallied two of his game-high 35 points. However, the Cardinals experienced a bit of foul difficulty and the West Liberty press began to get cranked up.

“I think we played about as well as we could for that first 16 minutes and then things kind of snowballed on us,” first-year Cardinals coach John Peckinpaugh said. “We got in some foul trouble and they really put it to us that last 4-5 minutes of the first half.

“They keep the pressure on you and it’s not just on one end of the floor. Defensively they just come after you and make it difficult on you.

“That’s some of the growing pains you go through and that’s going to make us better next year.’’

When senior Tyler Primmer connected to put West Liberty on top, 27-25, it never trailed again. Conference Freshman of the Year Will Yoakum canned a pair of 3-pointers and Eric Meininger netted another as the Hilltoppers ran off the floor at halftime with a 43-29 lead following Dalton Bolon’s short jumper just prior to the buzzer.

The start of the second half was all about true freshman Yahel Hill. He ended with 18 points but hit four 3s and scored 14 of his team’s first 16 points after the break.

“Just keep shooting,” Hill said when asked about shaking off an 0-for-4 performance in the first half. “You’ve got to have a short memory.’’
Howlett saw that explosion coming.

“I told ‘Ya’ at shootaround that he was going to have a really big game,” the coach recalled. “I think he was nervous in the first half and I told him at halftime he was going to get his swagger back.

“So we ran an opening set for him the first play of the second half and he saw that ball go through the net and his swagger was back.’’

The Hilltoppers, who had 24 offensive rebounded that resulted in 34 second-chance points, continued to pour it on and led by as many 37 points – 87-50—with 7:47 remaining.

Kamgain, who scored 25 of his total after halftime, and company refused to go away as they have all season, and chipped away down the stretch.

“We never really recovered (after the first-half WLU run),” Peckinpaugh said. “We couldn’t keep them off the glass – 24 offensive rebounds is abysmal.
“But I’m proud of the way our group has fought all year and we’ve got a bright future with these guys if we keep working.’’

Yoakum finished with a double-double of 15 points and 10 rebounds to support Hill’s team-high 18-point performance. Meininger had 14 points, four rebounds and three steals and Primmer contributed 10 points.

Steve Cannady backed Kamgain with 13 points and seven rebounds for the Cardinals.

Concord 74, Charleston 62

Fourth-seeded University of Charleston and fifth-seeded Concord University waged a pair of epic battles during the regular season both of which took overtime to decide.

Friday night in the quarterfinals of the Mountain East Conference Basketball Tournament at WesBanco Arena the Mountain Lions, who won both regular-season meetings, had a bit of an easier time as they quickly established a double-figure lead and then held off every UC challenge to record a hard-fought 74-62 victory.

The win improved Concord to 20-9 overall and earns the Mountain Lions a berth in Saturday’s semifinals against top-seeded West Liberty (25-3) at 6 p.m. The Hilltoppers eliminated ninth-seeded Wheeling Jesuit Friday evening, 100-79.

West Liberty won both regular-season meetings with Concord, one of which took two overtimes to decide.

Charleston, meanwhile, finished its season with a 20-9 record.

“We knew it was going to be a close and tight game throughout,” Concord coach Todd May said. “Give Charleston an unbelievable amount of credit. They’re a really good team and they’re very well coached.

“We told our guys it was going to be a game of runs. They made theirs a couple of times and cut it to six a couple of times, but it goes back to the mantra within our program which is grit. These guys never cracked.”

UC only led once in the game at 2-0. Concord quickly erased that and less than seven minutes into the contest had built a double-figure lead that the Golden Eagles struggled in vain all evening to overcome.

“Coach said it was going to be a game of runs so we knew going in we either had to jump on them or they were going to jump on us,” Concord sophomore guard/forward Malik Johnson, who finished with 19 points, five rebounds and three steals, said. “We were the aggressor tonight. We put our foot on their throats and never let up.”

Charleston did a good job of taking away Concord senior guard Tommy Bolte, who came into the contest leading the MEC and second in the nation in scoring with a 29.0 average. Bolte, who had 65 points this season in one of the wins over the Golden Eagles, was limited to just nine points Friday night, but he handed out a game-high seven assists and had five rebounds. With UC focused on limiting Bolte, Concord’s Johnson, Trey Brisco and Jair Rodgers all stepped up and played well. Brisco finished with a game-high 21 points, seven rebounds and three steals, while Rogers added 17 points.

“I feel like we did what we were supposed to do in scout,” UC senior guard Josh Floyd, who finished with 15 points, said. “We wanted to limit Bolte which we did. He finished with nine points which is unheard of for Tommy Bolte with the way he’s been scoring.

“They jumped on us, but we got it down to six several times but just couldn’t get over the hump. They had some of their guys who usually don’t do as much, their role players and X-factors, step up. When they needed to those guys hit a lot of big shots for them.”

Concord connected on 52.8 percent of its field goal attempts (28-of-53), including an 11-of-17 showing (64.7 percent) from 3-point range. Defensively the Mountain Lions limited UC to 41.9 percent shooting (26-of-62), including a dismal 3-of-18 performance from long range.

“To me the biggest difference tonight was the three-point line. That’s what jumps off the page to me,” UC coach Dwaine Osborne said. “We got outscored there 33-9. That’s 24 points you’ve got to figure out some way to make up.

“I’m going to take an educated guess and say we shoot about as many free throws a game as any team in our league has all year long and we couldn’t get to the free throw line tonight. We also just couldn’t make any shots from the perimeter. Those things and the fact like Josh said that their role players stepped up for them really made the difference.”

Charleston’s sophomore center Lamont McManus, who led his team with 20 points and seven rebounds, hit a back down layup with 5:55 to pull the Golden Eagles to within six of the Mountain Lions for the last time. In the final 5:36, though, Concord was able to outscore UC 13-7 to hold off the rally and record the win.

Saturday will be Concord’s third appearance in the tournament semifinals since the MEC formed in 2013-14. The Mountain Lions won the 2016 MEC Tournament as the fourth seed.

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