Falcons held to 64 points in D-II men’s tournament in loss to Virginia Union

INDIANA, Pa. – Just when it seemed it was Fairmont State’s night, the Fighting Falcons endured a cold spell that couldn’t have come at a worse time. 

It was ultimately their downfall in the season-ending 66-64 loss to Virginia Union on Saturday night in the first round of the NCAA Division II Atlantic Region men’s tournament at the Kovalchick Complex. 

The same Falcons’ offense that averaged 93.0 points per game this season was stagnant and inefficient down the stretch, allowing Virginia Union to end the game on a 16-5 run over the final 7:32. It was a gut-wrenching finish to a game the Falcons (24-8) led for more than 32 minutes. 

“I know this one hurts,” Fairmont State coach Tim Koenig said. “Tough finish, but I love these guys and think the world of them.” 

Isaiah Sanders and George Mangas scored 13 points apiece to pace the Falcons, while Zyon Dobbs added 10 points and a game-high seven assists. But Fairmont State hardly resembled the team that entered the game as the third-highest scoring offense in Division II. 

The Falcons shot a season-low 41.4 percent from the field (24-for-58), including 9-for-32 (.281) from 3-point range, in their lowest-scoring game of the season by a wide margin. 

“I felt we could slow them down,” Virginia Union coach Jay Butler said. “You can’t stop a team that’s been averaging about 90 to 100. So, 64 points, I felt we did a fantastic job defensively.” 

Fairmont State took its largest lead of the second half, 59-50, after freshman David Jolinder drained a 3-point field goal with 7:49 to play. Less than two minutes later, Sanders made another 3-pointer, but only after it bounced around the rim and hit the top of the backboard before dropping in. It seemed the Falcons had luck on their side, holding a 62-54 lead with 6:30 remaining. 

That’s when the offense went cold. In one key sequence, Fairmont State turned the ball over twice in a five-second span inbounding the ball under its basket. Both turnovers resulted in points for Virginia Union, and in a matter of just 48 seconds, the Panthers mounted a 7-0 run to get within 62-61 with 5:42 to play. 

“We turned it over (during) that stretch when we were up,” Koenig said. “Out of the timeout, a couple turnovers. That really hurt.” 

That seemed to rattle the Falcons, who shot 1-for-6 from the field the rest of the game, including 0-for-4 from beyond the arc, and committed three more turnovers. Even so, they had chances to win the game in the closing minutes. 

Tariq Woody scored on a fast-break dunk with 3:04 left to give Fairmont State at 64-63 lead. Virginia Union countered with a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession to reclaim the lead, but the Panthers didn’t score again over the final 2:30, going 0-for-3 from the field and 0-for-2 from the free throw line. 

The second of those free-throw misses came with 1.4 seconds remaining. Woody got the rebound, giving the Falcons the ball with 1.1 seconds. On the ensuing inbounds play, Dobbs heaved the ball the length of the court to Woody, who secured the ball and got off a shot from the right wing just before the buzzer, but he was off the mark. 

“We turned it over a couple times, and then we just didn’t make shots,” senior guard Briggs Parris said of the closing stretch. “They’re a good team. Sometimes you’ve got to give them credit.” 

“They just made a couple extra plays at the end of the game,” Sanders said. “Rebounding. … A couple loose balls they got. They just got a couple extra plays than us.” 

Fairmont State briefly trailed to start the game before going on a 14-0 run, which gave the Falcons their largest lead of the night, 18-7, with 11:25 to play in the first half. They didn’t trail again until the 4:33 mark of the second half. 

Virginia Union struggled mightily shooting the ball to start the first half. The Panthers were 5-for-25 through the first 12 minutes of play, missing everything from open jump shots to dunks. But they crashed the boards, and it kept them in the game. 

The Panthers trimmed the deficit to 35-31 at halftime, thanks in large part to their offensive rebounding. They collected 13 offensive boards in the first half, leading to 12 second-chance points. Virginia Union finished with 22 offensive rebounds, resulting in a significant advantage in shots attempted. The Panthers attempted 16 more shots than Fairmont State. 

“Extra opportunities,” Koenig said. “They had some clean looks that didn’t go. We had a lot of clean looks that didn’t go, but they had extra opportunities. We turned the ball over 15 times, and they obviously got us on the boards.

“Looking at the shot attempts, they had so many more attempts. It’s hard to win a game – the margin for error is a lot smaller when they have so many more opportunities. That’s really the difference in the game.”

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