Feb. 18—FAIRMONT — To truly become something more, Fairmont State women's basketball needed someone more.
All year long, star senior guard Sierra Kotchman has been her usual self of lights-out shooting and volume scoring, but on Wednesday with MEC-leading Notre Dame visiting Joe Retton Arena, the rest of the youthful Falcons rose to the moment and delivered a shocking, come-from-behind 86-83 upset victory.
With the big-time win, Fairmont State improved to 4-8 on the season, while the loss dropped Notre Dame to 10-3.
"I know the season has been up and down, but they're resilient," Fairmont State coach Stephanie Anderson said of her players. "I mean, as a coach, I can't ask for anymore — they come in every single day with a positive attitude and they work extremely hard, and as long as you have that, you have a chance to win every night. I was excited to see it pay off for them this evening."
"We stuck together the whole game," said Kotchman. "We were resilient and we played all the way to the end till the last buzzer. It was a great team win."
Kotchman once again poured in her usual dosage of scoring, putting up a team-high 26 points on 8-of-14 shooting, including 5-of-8 from 3-point range to lead the Falcons. But alongside her was a goldmine of contributions from the entire roster that ranged from gritty defense, to timely playmaking, to a bench scoring boost to help Fairmont complete the upset when a potential game-tying deep 3 from Notre Dame star Jada Marone missed just a bit long as time expired.
Freshman Alyssa DeAngelo, who's been Fairmont's most reliable game-to-game scorer outside of Kotchman, rebounded from a rough first half to score 14 of her 18 points over the final 20 minutes. Her personal 12-point outburst on 5-of-5 shooting in the third quarter was the catalyst behind Fairmont's second-half comeback, as the host Falcons narrowed Notre Dame's eight-point halftime lead to just one heading into the fourth quarter.
Reserve forward Jalen Gibbs, meanwhile, gave the Falcons a battle-tested 25 minutes underneath en route to recording a double-double of 11 points and 12 rebounds. And the bench duo of freshman Madeline Huffman and redshirt junior transfer Jertaya Hall each brought relentless defensive tenacity against NDC's Marone while also providing a couple of huge offensive moments in crunch time. Huffman finished the game with nine points, five assists and two steals in 22-plus minutes, and Hall scored seven points and grabbed six rebounds, also in just a tick under 23 minutes of action.
"We just came together as a team to pull that win out. To get that momentum going and keep it rolling and (eventually) come out on top, that's the best thing in the game of basketball," said Huffman, who, in addition to her feisty defense, made two of the biggest offensive plays of the game for Fairmont when she split through the NDC defense for a right-handed layup with 2:35 left and then fired an assist to Gibbs for a point-blank layup with 2:00 to play to give the host Falcons a four-point lead on both occasions.
For Notre Dame, Marone scored a team-best 23 points on 7-of-18 shooting to go with six rebounds, while the trio of Marina Adachi, Theresa Parr and Amil Ali-Shakier each scored 13 points apiece. Parr also grabbed a team-high nine rebounds.
Notre Dame actually led by eight at the half at 45-37, and much of the first 20 minutes of play served as the stage for a duel between Kotchman and Marone as two of the MEC's best scorers. Kotchman and Marone, who entered Wednesday ranked second and fourth in the MEC in scoring at 24.7 and 20.8 points a game, respectively, went back and forth trading blows, with Kotchman scoring 15 of her 26 points in the first half on 5-of-9 shooting and Marone tallying 16 of her 23 points in the frame on 6-of-11 shooting.
Kotchman weaponized her devastatingly quick release and lithe footwork on stepbacks and pull-ups to spurn NDC with her jumper. All game long she hoodwinked NDC's man-to-man defense, dancing with side-steps and shot fakes until she freed enough space to launch. Marone, on the other hand, was a bit less subtle but no less effective, as she simply torched Fairmont's defense on blow bys with lightning quick drives to the hoop. She hit Fairmont's defense with tight dribble combos — often double crossovers — and darted to the rim for both right- and left-handed finishes a couple beats ahead of any Fairmont State help.
In the third quarter, Fairmont State rallied back into contention by outscoring Notre Dame 22-15 in the period. The hosting Falcons turned the tables on both the battle of points in the paint and turnovers in the frame. After Notre Dame built up a 24-8 margin in points in the paint and 7-6 turnover advantage over the course of the first half, Fairmont State won points in the paint 16-10 and turnovers 7-3 in the third to slice the deficit to 60-59 going into the fourth quarter.
Once in the fourth quarter, Fairmont State took the lead for good early on when Kotchman hit a dagger 3 from the corner off a skip assist by Gibbs to put the host Falcons up 65-62 with 8:42 to play. Fairmont went on to go up by as many as seven in the period with 4:49 left when Gibbs slipped to the hoop on a baseline-out-of-bounds play and was assisted by Huffman on the inbound for a wide open layup.
"I just thought our kids started to play with extreme confidence," said Anderson, who went with Kotchman-Huffman-DeAngelo-Hall-Gibbs as the host Falcons' closing lineup. "We got stops when we needed them and we tried to limit Jada as much as we could. I thought that group in the second half, and really our entire team, gave us valid minutes — they came together and they really fought hard and they were able to get stops and more stops. I just thought our kids showed up and played extremely well."
Notre Dame, however, refused to fold themselves, as Marone ticked off four straight points and NDC cobbled together a quick 7-0 spurt to tie the game at 74-74 with 3:25 to play following a layup by Jen Oduho off an assist by Ali-Shakir.
Again, Fairmont State responded to pull back in front. First, Kotchman drove right and hit a cool pull-up banker over Marone with 3:05 left to give Fairmont a 76-74 lead. Then following a Marone corner 3 that rimmed out for NDC, Huffman came down and extended Fairmont's lead to four with her aforementioned righty layup at the 2:35 mark.
"When we needed things down the stretch, we capitalized, and that's growth," Anderson said.
Notre Dame knotted the game yet again with under a minute to play when Marone hit a string of four free throws to make it 81-81 with 46 seconds left, but Fairmont State nabbed the lead right back with 38 seconds left when DeAngelo drew a foul on a drive and hit both free throws with Fairmont in the bonus.
Notre Dame had three looks on three separate possessions in the final 38 seconds to stave off a defeat, but Marone first missed a tough, contested layup and then missed a pair of 3s, including the one at the final buzzer.
"Our kids needed to see they're possible of winning games like that," said Anderson, whose Falcons snapped a four-game losing streak. "It's huge, just for our confidence."
Email Bradley Heltzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bradheltzTWV.