With a mere 30 minutes separating the two schools, the West Virginia Mountaineers and Fairmont State Falcons took to the court in Morgantown Monday night to open up the 2013 season with an exhibition of this local rivalry.
But in the end a scrappy Division II Falcons team could not pull off the upset. Led by strong shooting performances from Eron Harris and Nathan Adrian, the Mountaineers opened up the year with a 89-70 exhibition victory over Fairmont State.
Early on in the contest, the big story out of Monday night's opener was Morgantown native Nathan Adrian. The true freshman forward, who has been hyped throughout the offseason, provided the Mountaineers with a bulk of their offensive production early from a place that was rather unwelcoming a year ago.
On West Virginia's first two offensive possessions, the true freshman clanked in a pair of threes from straightaway, showing his highly touted shooting prowess and giving the Mountaineers an early advantage.
Adrian also provided the Mountaineers a spark in the paint defensively to open up the contest, recording a block and rebound heading into the first media timeout. Another three pointer from returning leading scorer gave West Virginia a 9-6 advantage at the first break.
Entering Monday's scrimmage, talking around North Central West Virginia centered on the Falcon's potential for a shocking upset. Returning a bulk of their squad from the last season's WVIAC runner-up, former Mountaineer assistant, turner Fairmont State head coach Jerrod Calhoun had his team and school believing in the potential for a huge upset.
And the Falcons in attendance had reason to believe the hype early. After falling down 9-2 in the opening two minutes of the contest, Fairmont State would mount a mini-comeback, tying the game at nine with a wide-open three pointer from guard Caleb Davis.
But the Mountaineers would pull ahead again entering the second media timeout of the half. Showcasing his breakaway ability, guard Juwan Staten would find himself on the board for the first time in the game, receiving an outlet pass off a Kevin Noreen rebound for the uncontested slam. The score gave West Virginia a 13-11 lead at the following break.
After losing their stroke from behind the arc in the previous four-minute series, Harris gave the Mountaineers a much-needed three-point boost exiting the timeout. The sophomore guard escaped Fairmont State's familiar-looking 2-3 zone defense for an uncontested three from the left corner. The score pushed the Mountaineers up to a 19-13 advantage.
But again, Fairmont State would not yield to their Division I foe. With the Mountaineers showing lax defensive pressure early, perhaps treading lightly due to the new Big 12 defensive rules, Falcons guards found it rather easy to penetrate the Mountaineer line. A trio of dribble-drive layups from Fairmont State's Thomas Wimbush cut into West Virginia's lead again, giving the Mountaineers a mere 22-20 advantage with 8:00 remaining in the half.
However, the streaky shooting caught back up to West Virginia right before the ensuing media timeout. A pair of three pointers from Adrian and Gary Browne pushed the Mountaineers to a 28-25 lead at the next break.
The new Big 12 defensive rules came into obvious play during the exhibition, with the officiating crew appearing to hold Fairmont State up to the standard West Virginia will face this season. The new body check rule played into the hands of the Mountaineers, forcing the Falcons into early foul trouble. With 5:00 remaining in the half, two Fairmont State players recorded three fouls with five others holding two a piece.
The 18 team fouls early for the Falcons helped the Mountaineers gain a bulk of their late-half points from the charity stripe. West Virginia would go 16-21 from the line in the first 15 minutes of the game, giving them a 36-27 advantage at that span.
Following a West Virginia timeout, the Mountaineers continued to roll until the final media break. A quick-trigger three pointer by Harris early in the shot clock pushed West Virginia's lead further into double-digits, giving them a 42-29 advantage at the final media break.
The three also extended Harris' lead in the scoring column for the Mountaineers on the night, giving him 18 points with 3:00 remaining in the half.
West Virginia would tack on another three points from the free throw line in the final stretch, giving them a 45-33 lead heading into the locker room.
Once the second half commenced, it would not take long for West Virginia's Adrian to pick up where he left off from beyond the arc. The Morgantown native connected with a pull-up corner jumper to push West Virginia's lead up 48-33.
Adrian would show his shooting versatility a few series later, connecting on a jumper from inside the arc, only his second two-point basket of the game. The score gave West Virginia 52-39 advantage, forcing Fairmont State to call a timeout with 17:11 remaining in the contest.
After holding their own with the Mountaineers for early portions of the first half, Fairmont State looked to rekindle that spark early in the second half. A controversial blocking foul on Harris ended with an And 1 opportunity for the Falcon's Davis, as the guard floated in a layup right before the break. Despite the score, West Virginia still held on to a 54-41 advantage.
Meanwhile, the Falcons began to show a lot of fire from both the coaching staff and players. A layup by Brendan Cooper pushed Fairmont State's deficit to 10 points at 56-46, igniting the bench and those in attendance.
A technical foul on the Falcon's Martins Abele, however, shifted the momentum slightly in West Virginia's favor. A three pointer from freshman walk-on Chase Connor pushed the Mountaineers back to a 13-point advantage where the Mountaineers would continue to build entering the second media timeout.
Staten would add on a quick layup down the lane to give West Virginia a 61-48 advantage at the break.
For the remainder of the contest, West Virginia would continuously battle with itself to put the game out of reach. A good play on one side of the court would frequently be negated by a miscue on the other end, keeping Fairmont State in respectable territory against a Division I opponent.
Adrian, however, would prove to be the Achilles heel for the Falcons. The Morgantown native knocking down another three pointer, his fifth of the game, before the third media timeout to halt another Fairmont State comeback attempt.
Along with Adrian, Harris looked to continue solidifying his role as the go-to for West Virginia this season. The sophomore guard already clocked in 27 points and eight rebounds with eight minutes remaining in the contest, helping the Mountaineers hang onto a 71-54 advantage.
For the remaining eight minutes of the contest the Mountaineers appeared more focused on running the clock while Fairmont State maintained its hopes of a comeback bid.
The Falcons employed a full-court press on the Mountaineers, hoping to trip up the young, turnover-prone late in the game, with minor success. Fairmont State forced two quick turnovers on West Virginia, getting four points out of the exchange to cut into the deficit, 73-60, with five minutes remaining.
Fairmont State provided their fans a little hope, briefly cutting West Virginia's lead to 11 with a subsequent chance to push the deficit to single digits. But a strong post move from Williams ended the slight Falcons run, pushing the Mountaineers ahead 77-64 at the final media timeout.
For the remaining four minutes, the Mountaineers would forego their clock-killing strategy in an effort to put away the Falcons. A pair of three pointers by Browne and Adrian, coupled with a wild jumper by Harris pushed West Virginia over the mark and onto victory.
Final score: West Virginia 89, Fairmont State 70.
The Mountaineers were led in scoring by Eron Harris who recorded 31 points, eight rebounds. He was followed closely by Nathan Adrian who chipped in 21 points, including six three pointers.
West Virginia will open up their regular season Friday at home against Mount Saint Mary's. Tipoff is at 7pm.