Men’s basketball second half rally falls just short of win

After allowing 65 first half points, the Griffins mounted a stalwart second half comeback in their January 18 bout against Fairmont State, but could not grab the lead, dropping a 93-90 decision at the McKenna Center.

By Sean Maiolo

Staff Writer

After allowing 65 first half points, the Griffins mounted a stalwart second half comeback in their January 18 bout against Fairmont State, but could not grab the lead, dropping a 93-90 decision at the McKenna Center.

Despite the loss, several Griffins put up big numbers on the stat sheet. Sophomore guard Chris Giles led the way with 29 points even though he fouled out with 2:16 left. Supporting him on offense were freshman guard Justin McCoy with 24, sophomore forward Ozren Bjelogrlic with 11 and senior big man Cody Boone, who accompanied his 16 points with 16 rebounds and seven blocks.

The Griffins managed to overcome an 18 point deficit to start the second half and tied the game at 78 with just under 8:30 to play. However, Fairmont was able to regain the lead and the teams exchanged equal blows in the final eight minutes and Fairmont hung tough for the win.

Coach Tony Morocco’s guys did have one final chance to tie the game late, but sophomore guard Conor Tilow’s 16 footer from just left of the foul line rimmed out and Fairmont grabbed the rebound to ice the game with half a second remaining.
The loss was the Griffins sixth of the season and third in WVIAC play. Their record now stands a 5-3 in conference and 7-6 overall while Fairmont improved to 7-1 in conference and 12-1 overall.

Head Coach Morocco said the team’s porous first half was ultimately too much to overcome.

“The game was decided in the first few minutes when it was 7-0,” he noted. “We fouled too much and we turned the ball over at critical times.

There’s no secret to it. We just did not execute.”
“We started off slow,” added Assistant Coach Jordan Thomas.

“Our defense looked bad and we let them do whatever they wanted.”
Assistant Coach Luke Crump felt that the team was not mentally ready to play their opponent. He believed the lack of focus early on allowed Fairmont to jump on the Griffins before they knew what hit them.

“I don’t think we were mentally prepared to play 20 minutes of defense in the first half,” he said.

“Obviously, if you’re not mentally prepared, as soon as somebody passes the ball and cuts you’re just a step behind. You’re not thinking about it quick enough, you’re not reacting to what they’re doing fast enough and you just got to get your mindset focused early before the game even starts in order to start good.”

The contest proved to be a tale of two halves as the Griffins’ defense held Fairmont to only 28.1 shooting in the second half. That tremendous improvement, however, did not come from any schematic changes at halftime.

“We really didn’t make any adjustments at halftime,” Morocco said. “What we did was get back to the basics of guarding the ball, rebounding, running out and getting our break going and playing together.”

“The mood in the locker room was they knew we were upset with them and they knew they were upset with themselves, and it was just the idea that we did not execute.”

Thomas attributed the second half surge to the players’ pride in their game.
“We just told them to pick it up in the second half,” he said. “They didn’t want to get embarrassed and they didn’t want to roll over and just let them come in here and do whatever they wanted. The way they fought back shows the character and heart that they got.”

The Griffins also utilized the extra time over break to work on some areas while also implementing some new wrinkles to help prepare for the rest of the season.
“We were able to get a lot of stuff accomplished,”Crump said.

“Anytime you have a long break from classes you like to get as much new stuff in as you can. That way they’re not trying to learn schoolwork and basketball at the same time.”

The injury bug also nipped the team over break, although to a much lesser degree than last season.

“Sophomore guard/forward Kellen Holmes hasn’t played since mid-December,” Thomas said. “He worked so hard in the offseason and to get hurt again is just a blow.”

“I don’t know what it is, but it’s not so much here we go again but you have it. Every team suffers injuries and that’s just a part of being an athlete.”

Although confident that his team can finish strong, Morocco acknowledged that things will not be any easier the rest of the way.

“This team is maturing, but it’s a very tough league and we’re in a very tough run right now,” he said. “You don’t shoot yourself in the foot and have to come back with heroics. You win with fundamentals. You win it with every possession in every play of every game
“That comes with maturity.”

The Griffins displayed plenty of offensive firepower in a pair of double digit home wins over the holiday break. In their first game following finals, Morocco’s squad topped Salem International 92-77.

Five Griffins scored in double figures, Giles leading the charge with 28 points. Senior guard Emmanuel Jackson chipped in with 16, Bjelogrlic added 14, and Tilow and junior forward Ivan Cosovic both netted 10.

Despite the high score, the Griffins only shot 43.9 percent from the field, but their 21 offensive rebounds allowed for an abundance of second chance opportunities. They also forced 25 Salem turnovers and capitalized with 35 points off those takeaways.
More recently the Griffins overwhelmed West Virginia Wesleyan (WVW) in the second half of their 84-68 victory. Giles again led the team with 24 while Jackson had 18 and McCoy finished an assist shy of a double-double with 12 points and nine helpers.

The Griffins again capitalized on turnovers, scoring 36 points off 21 WVW giveaways. SHU’s shooters were hot from everywhere (56.5 percent from the field) except distance, with nearly half of their 30 misses coming from beyond the arc.