Say this about West Virginia State. When the Yellow Jackets get on a roll, it's something to watch. Unfortunately for them, it's been taking a while to get going, which doesn't leave all that much time to recover.
That was pretty much the case Saturday against Fairmont State as the Falcons led nearly wire to wire in an 82-76 Mountain East Conference men's basketball conquest at the Walker Convocation Center in Institute.
Dale Bonner popped in 24 points for the Falcons (5-2), who maintained a share of first place in the MEC North with West Liberty (6-3). Seth Younkin provided a double-double for Fairmont with 14 points (including two dunks) and 11 rebounds.
The Yellow Jackets (6-3) trailed by 14 points late in the first half before cutting it back to 44-39 at the break. In the second half, Fairmont extended its margin to 67-50 just inside the 10-minute mark before State came storming back again.
Twice in the final 1:58, the Jackets got within two points, 73-71 and 78-76, the latter coming with 29 seconds remaining on a 3-pointer by Treohn Watkins. However, Przemyslaw Golek and Isaiah Sanders each sank a pair of free throws in the last 21 seconds for the Falcons and the Jackets never scored again, missing 3s on their final three possessions.
Fairmont finished with 11 more rebounds than State, shot 54% from the floor and committed 12 turnovers.
"I'm proud of our guys for rebounding the ball,'' said Falcons coach Tim Koenig. "The biggest things I look at are how many times we turned it over and did we outrebound them. Because like with any team, we feel like if we have equal or more shot attempts, we like our chances. Especially with their pressure, whether it's fullcourt or in the halfcourt, we've got to make sure we take care of the ball. You see how good West Virginia State is; they're really good.''
For West Virginia State, which now sits a full game behind the University of Charleston (7-2) in the MEC South, it marked the third straight game in which it fell far behind and had to claw back. The Jackets managed to win at West Liberty last week 100-96, but fell at Frostburg State 77-71 on Wednesday.
"One thing I'll say about these guys is that they fight, they battle back,'' said State coach Bryan Poore. "These guys hate to lose; they're hurting in there right now. No deficit is too much for those guys. We were down 15 at West Liberty and came back, we were down 25 at Frostburg and came back and down  tonight and came back. They don't have any give-up in them. They'll battle back.''
Fairmont, which came into the game with three regulars shooting 25% or less on 3-pointers, made 7 of 15 long shots in the first half to take control, including three by Bonner, who went 4 of 5 on 3s for the game.
"They shot the ball really well at the beginning of the game,'' Poore said, "which got us on our heels. [Their low shooting percentages] is why we were going zone to start the game, and they hit some 3s early.''
The Falcons had only two 3-pointers in the second half, but one was a dagger as Cole VonHandorf nailed one from the top of the key to bump his team's lead to 78-71 with 43 seconds to go.
"I was proud of Cole,'' Koenig said. "Nothing really fell for the guy, then he hits that big one at the end.''
West Virginia State, meanwhile, ended the game shooting 43% to go with its 43-32 rebounding deficit.
Jeremiah Moore, who's been battling turf toe, led the Yellow Jackets with 23 points and eight rebounds and was backed by Glen Abram (21 points, six assists) and Anthony Pittman (15 points, 11 rebounds).
Poore noticed the tendency for his players to get a bit impatient as they tried to whittle down their deficit.
"I thought when we got down, we pressed a little bit and were anxious,'' Poore said. "We were going first side and trying to get a shot right now, and that's when we didn't have any flow. When we moved the ball to the second or third side, we'd get space and then have room to go do what we do.
"When we get down, there's something in our minds that says, 'I've got to make a shot to get us back, make a play to get us back,' and they're going on first side. They've just got to trust each other and give it up and go get it back.''
The Jackets' next outing comes Wednesday when they travel to UC for the first of their two Kanawha County showdowns this season. Tipoff is set for 7:30.