WBB: Fairmont St, West Virginia St Advance to Women's Championship Game

WBB: Fairmont State, West Virginia State Advance to Women's Championship Game

Tournament Central

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#1 Fairmont State def. #4 Charleston, 72-68

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By Duane Cochran for MountainEast.org

WHEELING – Since taking over Fairmont State’s women’s basketball program five years ago head coach Stephanie Anderson and assistant Miki Glenn have been instilling the fundamentals and principles to their players of being a strong defensive team.

The past two years Fairmont’s defense has slowly but steadily taken the form of what Anderson and Glenn envisioned.

Saturday afternoon in the semifinals of the Mountain East Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament here at WesBanco Arena it was the Falcons’ tenacious second-half defense which helped them wipe out a nine-point halftime deficit against fourth-seeded University of Charleston and record a 72-68 victory.

“UC put up a heckuva fight like they always do, but I have to speak on behalf of our kids because I thought they had a gutsy 20 minutes in the second half,” Anderson said. “We went in the locker room at halftime and challenged each other to make sure that we went out there in the second and half and did what we do.

“We wanted to be extremely aggressive, believe in ourselves and believe in one another. That’s exactly what they did. I’m very proud of them because I thought they were relentless the entire 20 minutes of the second half.”

The win improved the top-seeded Falcons to 25-5 and sets up a meeting at 2 p.m. Sunday in the league tournament title game with second-seeded West Virginia State (21-9). The Yellow Jackets eliminated sixth-seeded Concord in Saturday’s other semifinal. FSU swept State during the regular season.

The 25 victories for the Falcons also ties the mark for the second-most wins in a single season in Fairmont State women’s basketball history.

Fairmont has made one MEC Tournament championship game appearance in its history. FSU fell to Wheeling in the 2017 title contest. This will be West Virginia State’s first-ever MEC Tournament championship game appearance.

The Falcons’ second-half defense Saturday forced 12 UC turnovers, eight of which came in the third quarter, as FSU whittled its nine-point halftime deficit to just two heading to the final 10 minutes.

Fairmont kept the pressure on in the fourth quarter and used a 14-2 run in the first 5:17 of the period to take command of the game at 59-49. After that it never got any closer than five until UC made a 3-pointer in the waning seconds of the contest.

“We always want to make sure we’re pressuring teams and making them uncomfortable,” Anderson said. “We always want things to be at our pace. Defensively, the more uncomfortable we can make a team, the better it is for us. We feed off of that. It brings us energy. We can’t do that without kids playing hard and giving all they have. Our kids played with a lot of heart and effort in the last 20 minutes.

Fairmont’s Alyssa DeAngelo, who finished with a team-high 19 points, seven of which came in the fourth quarter, agrees.

“The thing that’s important to understand is we’ve been running this defense for four or five years,” DeAngelo said. “When we started it, it did not look like it did today. Trust me. It was no where close. It’s been a process.”

“They put the work in,” Anderson, who is 48-14 the past two years, quickly added.

On the offensive end Fairmont’s Jalen Gibbs, who had two fouls in the first half, went to work in the fourth quarter. She scored 10 of her team’s 27 fourth-quarter points – most of which came on straight-line drives to the basket from the top of the key.

“With two fouls I had to go out early, so coming out in the second half I knew I had to give my all,” said Gibbs, who finished with 18 points and a team-high seven rebounds. “I know our team counts on me to be aggressive, bring energy, rebound and score.

“With that in mind I was on a mission. It was head down, straight to the basket and finish.”

Fairmont also got 13 points and four steals from Leslie Huffman and 11 points from Katy Darnell.

UC finished its season at 19-11. The loss marks the first time since 2020 that the Golden Eagles have not made the championship game of the tournament.

“Obviously you plan to be there tomorrow, you hope to be there tomorrow and you prepare to be there tomorrow,” UC coach Tianni Kelly said. “We started the game and it looked like what we planned for was coming to fruition.

“I thought Fairmont did a great job in the second half of just turning up the pressure. It took us a little while to get adjusted and it took us a little bit to figure out where we were going to score from. Our defense can’t really stand long scoring droughts from our offense. The bottom line is I think my girls fought really hard and I’m very proud of them for that because I don’t think anyone expected us to be here.”

UC was led by Clarrissa Francis’ game-high 25 points and 10 rebounds. The Golden Eagles also got nine points from Nia Vanzant and eight points and six rebounds from Haley Moore.

“Fairmont’s a very good team,” Francis said. “We knew that coming in. They wouldn’t be number one in the conference if they weren’t.

“They just really make you work both on offense and defense.”

#2 West Virginia State def. #6 Concord, 73-62

Box Score | Press Conferences

By Duane Cochran for MountainEast.org

WHEELING – Second-seeded West Virginia State made a little history here Saturday afternoon in the semifinals of the annual Mountain East Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament at WesBanco Arena.

The Yellow Jackets led from start to finish and answered every challenge sixth-seeded Concord offered as they recorded a 73-62 victory to earn their first-ever MEC Tournament title game appearance.

“This means a lot to us,” State graduate forward Anysa Jordan, who finished with nine points and nine rebounds, said. “I’ve only been here two years, but just to be able to be in this position I’m really grateful. I love my team and I just love what we’ve done with the program. It’s the first time we’ve made it to the championship. I’m proud of myself and our program.”

Veteran Yellow Jacket head coach Charles Marshall agrees.

“I’m filled with emotions right now because I know where the program was when I first got here to where we are now,” Marshall said. “I’m proud of them coming in day after day and working hard. I’m hard to deal with, but they put up with me. They come in do it, get the job done and I’m happy now they’re reaping the benefits of their hard work.”

The win was the eighth in a row for West Virginia State and improved the Yellow Jackets to 21-9 on the year. State will square off Sunday at 2 p.m. against top-seeded Fairmont State (25-5) in the MEC championship game. The Falcons topped State twice during the regular season in a pair of close games. Neither State nor FSU has won an MEC Women’s Basketball Tournament title.

On Saturday against Concord, the Yellow Jackets raced to a 12-2 lead eight minutes into the game and never looked back. The Mountain Lions mounted a number of comebacks attempts throughout the contest but could never take the lead or draw even with State.

“It was a very competitive and physical matchup,” said Concord coach Tesla Southcott. “We had three good games against West Virginia State this year. It just didn’t go our way today.

“I have a lot of respect for coach Marshall and his program. We knew from the start of the season they would be championship contenders so to be in a competitive game with them today shows a lot on the part of our kids as well.”

Led by guards Skylar Davidson and Jazz Blankenship Concord trimmed an 18-point State lead early in the third quarter down to just four late in the period only to see the Yellow Jackets run the margin back to nine by the end of the third.

In the fourth the Mountain Lions got it to three with 7:37 to play, but could never get the margin any closer.

“Basketball is a game of runs,” said Blankenship, who finished with 17 points, 12 of which came off of 3-pointers. “You just have to make sure your run is bigger than theirs. Unfortunately, they had some big runs, but we couldn’t let that define the whole game. We tried to keep battling. Sometimes you just have to grind your teeth and keep going.”

Davidson added a game-high 18 points and four assists for the Mountain Lions, who finished their season with a 17-13 record.

State’s defense forced 25 Concord turnovers and the Yellow Jackets’ bench outscored the Mountain Lions 42-9.

State was led offensively by Hallie Bailey’s 12 points and Z.Z. Russell’s 11. The Yellow Jackets also had a trio of players finished with nine points including Jordan, Shelby Harmeyer and Imani Reid.

“I’m a freshman so this is my first time being here,” said Bailey. “The first game you have to get it all out, so today I just trusted my teammates, felt a lot better and we got the win.”

“It was a total team effort today,” added Marshall. “I’m really, really proud of that.”


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