For Shepherd, Jason Jolly no laughing matter
Jason Jolly’s long-and-longer range shooting had the large crowd at Shepherd’s final game of the regular season wondering just how often he would keep making his assortment of three-point shots.
Fairmont’s Jolly did miss his last two tries, but by that time he had already made 12 shots and scored 36 points as the Falcons denied Shepherd’s bid for a farewell win to the 2017-18 regular season. Fairmont’s 79-76 victory kept it in the running for an Atlantic Region berth in the upcoming NCAA Division II national tournament.
Fairmont concluded Coach Joe Mazzulla’s first season with a 21-7 overall record that included a 17-5 mark in the Mountain East Conference. In this week’s league tournament taking place in Charleston, the Falcons are the third-seed and see Concord in the quarterfinal round.
Shepherd finished at 16-12 overall and 12-10 in league play. The Rams had an identical record to Charleston and Concord and were seeded fourth, giving them a quarterfinal game against Charleston.
Steffen Davis, one of three Shepherd seniors making his last appearance in the bubbling Butcher Center, almost matched Jolly’s overhead bombardment during the streaky first half. Davis helped Shepherd to a 13-3 lead before the Falcons quickly rallied with nine straight points, drawing within 18-15 of the shrinking Shepherd lead.
Jolly and D’Ondre Stockman provided the three-pointers that had the game tied at 27-27 with 5:59 left in the entertaining first half. Jolly’s continued excellence had Fairmont ahead at the half, 38-33.
Shepherd’s Winston Burgess had two dunks early in the second half, and then Davis made a three-pointer that pushed the Rams in front, 43-41.
Another pair of Jolly’s three-point specialties made it 47-47 as neither team could diminish its opponent’s scoring. The Rams discarded their zone defense and went after the Falcons with a first-seen man-to-man. Jolly didn’t seem to care.
With senior Gavin McTavish getting some points and AJ Carr in the forefront of the Shepherd offense, the Rams nosed ahead and had a 64-58 lead on a Thomas Lang three-pointer. But Fairmont scored seven straight points to go back in front. Jolly’s longest success of the game – easily a 28-footer – and Vince Franklin’s follow shot extended the Falcon’s lead to 73-66.
Previously quiet Andrew Emrick made two long drives through the lane to score key baskets, and even Lang’s three-pointer – with 40 seconds left – still had Fairmont clinging to a 79-76 lead.
Jolly’s last two long-range attempts failed, and the Rams had possession with only 10 seconds remaining. Shepherd couldn’t find the sort of shot it wanted, and Carr hurriedly fired near the final horn from 22 feet, missing off the backboard and hushing the vibrant crowd, which had gotten its money’s worth and then some.
The Falcons won, even though they had tried only two free throws. Fairmont had eight more rebounds and made 50 percent of its 58 field goal attempts.
With its 21-7 overall record, the Falcons might need to win at least two games in the conference tournament.
No fewer than seven schools in the PSAC have at least 20 wins, and Virginia State is going to represent the CIAA in the Regional, which takes eight teams to its event. The Falcons did beat West Liberty once in the regular season.
West Liberty ( two losses) and Wheeling Jesuit (five losses) have more credentials than does Fairmont from the MEC. Shepherd would need to win the conference tournament in order to get its first bid to the NCAAs in Coach Justin Namolik’s tenure, now 10 years long.
Jolly and his bullseye shooting kept Shepherd from fully celebrating Senior Day, but it kept the Falcons in solid contention for another NCAA berth.