The little things — taking care of the basketball, boxing out, taking five charges and hitting 17-of-21 free throws — were key against Springfield’s up-tempo, high pressure style of play. The Firebirds (2-1, 1-0) played a zone defense to slow the game down.
“You have to do every facet of the game well to beat a team like this,” said Molz, a 2000 Fairmont graduate. “I credit my players. They’re responding, they’re being coachable. They’ve come a long way since the summer since we’ve all been together. Hopefully we continue that from here on out the rest of the season.”
Springfield’s Larry Stephens scored a game-high 19 points as the Wildcats fell to 1-1 and 0-1 in the GWOC National Division.
“We’ve just got to play better,” said Springfield coach Isaiah Carson. “There’s no doubt about it. We’ve got respect our opponent, we’ve got to understand that our success in the past means nothing now. You’ve got to come out and be the hunter and tonight we were not that.”
Springfield’s basketball got a late start as the football team advanced to the state semifinals in school history. They shot just 6-for-19 from the free throw line.
“We won’t make any excuses,” said Wildcats Isaiah Carson. “We didn’t bring it tonight. We didn’t respect our opponent and we didn’t come to play. We didn’t shoot it well and we kind of panicked.”
Fairmont led 19-16 at the half and extended their lead to 33-26 after three quarters.
Springfield stormed back in the fourth quarter. A 3-pointer and a layup by Stephens and a putback by Raymans Cole tied the score at 33.
The Firebirds were able to capitalize on Springfield’s foul trouble, hitting seven of eight free throws to take a 40-33 lead.
Springfield cut the lead to one point with about three minutes remaining, but were unable to take control of the game. Stephens hit a 3-pointer with 22 seconds remaining to make it 49-46. The Firebirds turned the ball over and Stephens attempted another 3-pointer to tie the game, but his shot missed.
“We worried about our offense and that’s not what we do in this program,” Carson said. “We’re defense, defense, defense. It starts and ends with defense for us. Energy and effort are things we can control. We can’t control every shot we take. You’re not going to make every layup or free throw you take, so we’re not going to hang our hat on that. We’re going to hang our hat on energy and effort and we did not bring that tonight.”
The win was a group effort that saw several bench players contribute, Molz said.
“It gives our guys a lot of confidence and validation for what we’ve been doing since the summer,” Molz said. “Our practices aren’t easy. When you get rewarded with a win like this, it definitely inspires them to come to practice and be hungry.”