#2 Fairmont State def. #6 Davis & Elkins, 76-65
WHEELING – The old adage survive and advance was never more fitting than it was for second-seeded Fairmont State here Saturday evening against sixth-seeded Davis & Elkins in the semifinals of annual men’s Mountain East Conference Basketball Tournament at WesBanco Arena.
In a game which wasn’t pretty, the Falcons did just enough to hold off the much-improved Senators and record a 76-65 victory earning themselves a spot in Sunday’s 5 p.m. championship game against top-seeded and regular-season MEC champion West Liberty.
FSU brings a 24-6 record into the contest. The Hilltoppers are 27-3. Sunday will be Fairmont’s third appearance in the MEC championship game. The Falcons won the 2021 tournament.
“It was a great win for us,” Fairmont coach Tim Koenig said. “Congratulations to D&E on a historic season. They have a helluva program.
“We went 5-of-26 from three and that’s not exactly a masterpiece, but we scrapped, clawed and figured out some things on the glass. We got 17 offensive rebounds and that’s going to happen when you miss a lot of shots. I’m really proud of our defense and we did a lot better job of taking care of the ball in the second half.
“They just don’t hand out championships. It’s so hard to get here. These guys have worked so many hours and faced and overcome adversity. We feel very fortunate to get a chance to play tomorrow. We know how good they are. We need to play well.”
The five made 3-point field goals for the Falcons were a season-low.
Saturday night’s semifinal between the Falcons and Senators was an old-fashioned defensive slugfest. Neither team could get separation and both were looking for something or someone to spark themselves late.
For FSU that someone was senior center Seth Younkin. Younkin, who averages just three points a game this season, entered the contest with Fairmont leading 51-46 and over the course of a four-minute span reeled off seven points, handed out an assist on a basket and pulled down three of his four rebounds. As a result, FSU went on a 17-8 run to open its biggest lead at 68-54 with just 4:13 remaining.
“The game was kinda stagnant and I had sat for a pretty good amount of time so I had some energy going in there,” said Younkin. “I kinda got away from the high-post flash and just played down low and tried to use my strength to try to rebound and finish. Zay (Isaiah Sanders) always tells me to be a monster on the glass. That motivates me. That’s pretty much what happened tonight.”
D&E coach Daniel Mondragon agrees that Younkin was a difference maker for the Falcons in the waning minutes.
“That’s what great, experienced teams do,” Mondragon said. “They have guys who step up. Look at (Zyon) Dobbs last night and what he did for them against Glenville. Tonight that was Younkin for them. He might not be a great scorer, but he knows who he is and what his role is and he impacts the game at a high level. He did that tonight in a crucial situation with a couple of offensive rebounds and a couple of stick backs.”
D&E tried to rally back, but Fairmont, the league’s leading free throw team, made 8-of-10 in the final 1:21 of the contest to hold off the Senators.
“Making our free throws at the end of the game was a good thing and helped us seal this one,” said FSU’s Sanders, who led the Falcons with 19 points and eight rebounds. “There have been times this season when we haven’t done that, but in March at tournament time it’s a good time for us to start making them.”
Fairmont placed four players in double figures in the win. The Falcons also got 13 points and a team-high 10 rebounds from Zyon Dobbs and 11 points from both George Mangas and Fonz Hale. The double-double for Dobbs was his second of the tournament.
D&E, which finished 19-11, saw its modest five-game winning streak come to an end with the loss. The Senators came into the tournament as the second-hottest team in the conference behind West Liberty.
“At one point we were 13-12 this season and we needed one win to make some school history,” said the Senators’ Sam Rolle IV, who led his team with 18 points, four assists, and three steals. “Once we got that win it was like a lot of pressure lifted off of our backs and we started playing with more and more confidence. We had said we wanted to win out and come into this tournament with a lot of confidence and that’s what we did.
“In the Charleston game, we were confident and we played free and didn’t let the big stage affect us. Unfortunately today it got the best of us, but it’s okay. We’ll be back.”
D&E also got 17 points and nine rebounds from Vadim Clanet and eight points and a game-high 12 rebounds from Breland Walton.