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Falcons outlast Battlers in OT thriller

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Maybe it just took the calendar flipping to March for the madness to finally arrive in the West Virginia Conference tournament at the Charleston Civic Center.

After the first day of the men's tournament at the Charleston Civic Center didn't offer much in terms of drama, the first semifinal game on Friday more than made up for the slow start as No. 2 Fairmont State punched a ticket into today's finals with a 75-74 overtime win over No. 3 Alderson-Broaddus.

The WVC's seventh-leading scorer, Fairmont's Isaac Thornton, was late arriving to the party but sure showed up when it counted, knocking down a game-winning foul shot with .9 seconds left in the extra frame after A-B's Malcolm Tatum missed a free throw that could've put the Battlers ahead with just 6.7 ticks left.

"The whole game, I had a bad game and I got in early foul trouble," Thornton said. "I just wanted to make up for it and come through for my team. It was a blessing [when the foul shot went through]."

After Tatum's miss, Thornton took off toward the hoop and a blocking call was charged on A-B's Richard Lemon as Thornton put up a wild shot in the lane.

Thornton, Fairmont State's leading scorer at 17.8 points per game, spent much of the first half in foul trouble and didn't score in the opening 20 minutes.

But as a result of his 14 points through the second half and overtime, Fairmont will be throwing its own little 1980s party after clinching its first WVC title game berth since 1985.

While the Falcons were soaring to heights they haven't reached in nearly 30 years, at least one man in the arena was unsure about the validity of the final, deciding whistle.

"I'm not very pleased at all," Battlers coach Greg Zimmerman said. "I'm ticked off. What should I tell my kids in the locker room?  You're going to make a call with .9 seconds left on a loose ball? Let the players decide the game, that's all I say. You play that hard, that long - I've got kids crying in the locker room, what am I supposed to tell them? I just want a fair deal and don't think we got it."

Alderson-Broaddus (20-9) lived up to its Battler moniker and then some as it fought back from deficits throughout the second half until claiming its first lead on a 3-pointer from Casey Ainslie with 2:01 remaining in the game.

Thornton drove to the hoop and hit a layup and was fouled, but missed the free throw to put Fairmont up 63-62. Former Winfield standout Adam Kline hit 1 of 2 free throws for A-B with 38 seconds left, providing the final 63-63 tally in regulation.

The Battlers still hang on to a shot at an at-large NCAA Division II tournament bid while Fairmont State (22-7) drastically improved its chances, win or lose today.

It wasn't quite the run-and-gun style of basketball the Falcons once played under Joe Retton but it was a victory the legendary WVC coach would be proud of.

Retton, whose teams claimed 12 regular-season league championships, eight conference titles and won 478 games, made a promise to Fairmont State coach Jerrod Calhoun before the game, and Calhoun intends to hold Retton to that vow.

"We've talked about [not being in a title game since 1985] since April when I got hired," Calhoun said. "We wanted to win the league and fell a couple of games short so we felt like this was our new season and a chance to bring a championship back to hang a banner.

 "These guys are setting the foundation for Fairmont State basketball again. We hadn't won a game down here since 2000-2001. I've got to go back and call Coach Retton as soon as I get back into the arena because he promised me if we got to title game he was going to drive down.What he did was remarkable and it's a fitting ending for the league to have Fairmont State back on top."

Brendan Cooper had team highs in points (19) and rebounds (seven) for Fairmont State while Malik Stith had 17.

Ainslie led five double-digit scorers for Alderson-Broaddus with 15 points followed by Kline with 14, Tatum and Kurklin Bohanan with 12 each and Roy Brown with 10. The Battlers accumulated a 45-30 advantage on the boards but turned it over 17 times compared to just nine for Fairmont and missed nine foul shots.

The Falcons (22-7) will meet No. 1 seed West Liberty in the title game at 3:40 p.m.

Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, ryan.pritt@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/RPritt.


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