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No. 2 seed Fairmont State women top West Chester Golden Rams 72-68 in NCAA DII tourney

Mar. 16—FAIRMONT — A stunning 24-point performance by West Chester guard Leah Johnson was not enough to fend off the No. 2 seed Fairmont State Falcons who hosted round one of the Atlantic Region of the NCAA DII Women's Basketball Championship Friday.

The Falcons move to 27-5 after defeating the No. 7 seed Golden Rams 72-68. West Chester ends its season with a 24-7 record.

"I'm very proud of this team," West Chester head coach Kiera Wooden said. "Certainly not the ending we wanted, but I couldn't ask for more in terms of the effort, focus, and heart this group has shown. We came up short, and obviously, it wasn't the ending we wanted, but this group worked and fought so hard, and I will always be proud of them. They gave tonight everything they have and have absolutely nothing to hang their heads about."

Johnson, who was already the Golden Rams' career-leading scorer and career assist leader, ended her time wearing the Purple and Gold as the first of three West Chester players in double figures. Michelle Kozicki finished with 17 points on 5-of-8 shooting and 10 rebounds, while Briana Seltzer poured in 11 of her own.

Guard Alyssa DeAngelo led Fairmont State in scoring with 20 points and was one of four Falcons in double figures as Katy Darnell chipped in 15 on 7-of-13 shooting, while Leslie Huffman and Jalen Gibbs added 11 and 10 points each.

Fairmont State started the game on an 11-0 run and led by as many as 13 late in the second, but West Chester never wavered, continually battling back to keep the game close throughout the night. The Golden Rams continued comeback bids, which saw the Purple and Gold erase double-digit deficits throughout the night, helped West Chester nearly steal one on Friday night as the seventh-seeded Golden Rams found themselves down just one in the final seconds of regulation.

With no choice but to foul to stop the clock, West Chester sent Fairmont State to the freethrow line late, and the host Falcons made the most of their chances, escaping with a 72-68 victory.

When asked about her group's continued resilience, erasing double-digit deficits throughout the evening, Wooden said, "Certainly tip your cap to Fairmont State as well. They are a tremendous team who had an amazing night here in front of their home crowd. I'm certainly proud of our effort, as we didn't panic and used our experience to handle the runs and fight our way back in throughout the night."

The Fairmont State defense was stifling through the first two-and-a-half minutes of play, holding the high-powered Golden Ram offense to just one shot while forcing four turnovers to jump out to an early 7-0 lead.

Over the next two minutes, Fairmont State continued its run, stretching the advantage to 11-0 before Johnson scored the Golden Rams first points of the game with a perfect 2-for-2 trip to the free throw line. This trip to the stripe settled West Chester down a bit as the Golden Rams forced a quick turnover down the other end and got a pull-up jumper to fall from Johnson, trimming the deficit to 11-4 with five minutes to play in the first.

Fairmont State opened the second quarter on a 9-4 run to take a 25-18 lead over the upset-minded Golden Rams, forcing another timeout by Wooden with 6:02 to play in the first half. As the second quarter continued, the Falcons' lead ballooned to 13 (33-20) after a 15-2 run midway through the second.

Kozicki snapped a scoreless drought for West Chester with a jumper in the paint that cut the deficit to 33-22. Seltzer's 2-for-2 effort at the line cut the lead back to single digits (33-24). Johnson and McTamney continued the late second-half surge, as Johnson forced a turnover and found a cutting McTamney to make the score 33-26. McTamney went to the line moments later and knocked down a pair as Fairmont State saw its lead cut to just five with 1:45 to play in the first half.

The two sides traded makes down the stretch of the first half as Fairmont State carried a slim 37-32 lead into the halftime break.

Johnson scored the last points of the first half, ending the first 20 minutes with eight points, while Seltzer and Kozicki added eight points each through the first 20 minutes.

West Chester shot sub 30.0 % from the field in both the first and second quarters, shooting just 29.4 % (5-of-17) in the first quarter and 4-of-16 (25.0 %) in the second. The Golden Rams shot just 27.3 % (9-of-33) from the field in the first half overall but were a perfect 14-of-14 at the line to stay in the game heading to the break.

For Fairmont State, Katy Darnell led the Fighting Falcons in scoring with a first-half-high 13 points on 6-of-7 shooting. Fairmont State shot 48.1 % (13-of-27) from the field in the first half, including a 3-of-10 (30.0 %) from beyond the arc, while also shooting 88.9 % (8-of-9) from the line.

Fairmont State carried a 58-51 lead into the fourth quarter, but West Chester would not go away quietly. After a pull-up jumper by Johnson, West Chester scored the first four points of the final frame to cut the deficit to 58-55 with under eight minutes to play in regulation. West Chester continued its run as Seltzer tied the game at 58-58 with a huge three off an assist from Johnson with 6:58 to play, evening the score for the first time all night.

Bre Wilson countered with a quick three of her own for Fairmont State, giving the hosts the lead back at 61-58. On the next Fairmont State possession, Johnson grabbed a rebound and drove the length of the floor quickly, hitting a driving layup to make the score 61-60 heading into the final media timeout of the evening.

Out of the media timeout, West Chester and Fairmont State traded makes as the Falcons retained a slim 66-64 lead with under two minutes to play in regulation. Fairmont State took a 68-64 lead at the free throw line and extended this lead to 69-64 after a 1-for-2 trip to the line.

Trailing by three with under 30 seconds to play, West Chester charged down the floor and took a late three through contact, but it was off the mark as second-seed Fairmont State survived the upset-minded Golden Rams to earn a 72-68 victory in front of their home crowd.

West Chester shot 33.8 % (24-of-71) from the field on the night, hitting a pair of shots from three-point range and 15.4 % (2-of-13) from deep in the setback. West Chester also went 18-for-22 (81.8 %) from the line in the loss.

Fairmont State shot 40.0 % (22-of-55) from the field in the victory, including 31.8 % (7-of-22) from three-point range. It also went 21-for-25 (84.0 %) at the free throw line.

Despite the setback, West Chester ended the game with a 48-38 lead in rebounding, including a 22-9 lead in offensive rebounding, which led to a 16-6 lead in second-chance points. West Chester also ended the game with a 24-22 lead in points in the paint and an 11-9 lead in points off the bench, led by Seltzer's WCU career-high matching 11.

On Saturday, Fairmont State will face the winner of the Fayetteville State/Indiana University of Pennsylvania game at Fairmont State.