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Fairmont depth leads way past Rams

By Staff | Jan 31, 2014

Sometimes the leader does all the heavy lifting but in the end receives no rewards for the efforts.

For the first time this season, Shepherd’s too-lean bench had its shortcomings exposed at the end of a tense and pressure-filled conference game where any of its contributions were sorely needed.

The Rams led Fairmont by a fortuitous 14 points at the half of the teams’ Mountain East Conference game.

But foul trouble was about to raise its ugly head and the up-tempo pace was about to strangle Morgan McDonald and Naim Muhammad with too many personals. They both would foul out.

And when they were joined in the game’s waning moments by Marcus Pilgrim and Brantley Osborne, Shepherd was doomed by the much taller and much deeper Fighting Falcons, losing a pulsating, 90-85, verdict in overtime.

In the last vital minutes of the first half, Shepherd had outscored the visiting Falcons, 24-14, as its weight-carrying starters — Kevin Jones, Austin Cunningham, Osborne and McDonald, as well as trusted sixth man Pilgrim — gained the upper hand.

Even though trailing by 14 points, Fairmont had done something other teams hadn’t been able to accomplish — severely limiting the offense of Osborne.

The 6-foot-3 guard was being shadowed by a 6-foot-7 defender who had limited the 20 points-per-game senior to only one shot from the field and two lonely free throws.

Osborne had made all his shots but still had only five points.

Pilgrim, Jones and Cunningham had provided the Rams with 34 of their 45 points, while three reserves had played 11 minutes and combined to score two points.

Fairmont coach Jerrod Calhoun had so much advice for his team at halftime that he brought them back to the floor only seconds before the definitive second half was to begin. No warmups for the “advised” Falcons.

It wasn’t long before Fairmont’s depth raised its collective heads. Calhoun needed his retserves. The Falcons collected seven team fouls in the first 4:34 of the half. Seven fouls. About two per minute. And Shepherd would be at the free throw line for the remainder of the night.

Yet Calhoun brought in 7-foot Martins Abele, Ke’Chaun Lewis and Chase Morgan to do his bidding.

Fairmont’s six-player bench would eventually contribute 29 points and 17 rebounds to the winning cause.

The Falcons used their size advantage — marked by the effective play of Abele — to maul Shepherd on the boards. Fairmont had 50 rebounds and Shepherd had but 26.

The once sacred Shepherd lead was gone at the 9:33 mark when Brendan Cooper brought the Falcons to within 61-60 of the jeopardized Rams’ lead.

Abele’s height and bulk had completely changed the game.

McDonald scored six points in five seconds to temporaily still the Fairmont charge. But he fouled out seconds later, joining the already-gone Muhammad on the sidelines.

An overtime was made necessary when Cunningham (6-for-17 from the field) missed a 26-footer as the second-half horn sounded with the score knotted at 79.

Morgan scored as the overtime gave further notice that the Falcon reserves were more than a supporting cast. The Falcons were never slowed, winning by five and then holding an inpromptu celebration before dancing off the floor with their 11th win against five losses.

The leader had showed the way with its effective starters and Pilgrim.

But the Falcons showed a winning strength in numbers, size and height, leaving the Rams with a fistful of “what-if’s” to contemplate as their sparkling record still read 13-4.