Flyin’ to the Hoop: Fairmont closes event with win over Woodward

Fairmont's Anthony Johnson looks for a driving lane Monday night against Cincinnati Woodward in the Flyin' To The Hoop finale at Trent Arena. Jeff Gilbert/CONTRIBUTED

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Fairmont's Anthony Johnson looks for a driving lane Monday night against Cincinnati Woodward in the Flyin' To The Hoop finale at Trent Arena. Jeff Gilbert/CONTRIBUTED

KETTERING – Fairmont’s tallest starter is 6-foot-4 Dasan Doucet. The other starters range from 6-foot to 6-3. That’s not supposed to be tall enough to compete at the top of Greater Western Ohio Conference, be the fourth-ranked Division I team in the state or deal with tall and athletic teams.

But the Firebirds make it work.

“If we come with the right energy and are in the right rotations, our size is not going to be a problem,” Doucet said. “Our roster top to bottom is tough, so we know that toughness wins over athleticism every day.”

Monday was an every day for the Firebirds. They took on a fast, slightly taller Cincinnati Woodward team that has been ranked in the Division II top 10 all season in the finale of the Premier Health Flyin’ To The Hoop at Trent Arena. The Firebirds rolled to a 19-point lead, let most of the lead go, then finished strong for a 60-49 victory.

The Firebirds’ toughest challenge was guarding 30-points-a-game star Paul McMillan IV. He can make the long 3-pointer and he can get to the basket as quick as anyone who was on the Trent Arena court during the 19-game event.

“Really it was limiting Paul McMillan, just making everything difficult for him,” Doucet said. “We wanted to keep somebody in his face at all times and just be backside and have somebody waiting for him and don’t let him get any easy straight-line drives to the rim.”

McMillan was held to 19 points on 9 of 17 shooting and left the game late with a lower leg injury. But before he got hurt, McMillan made the kind of explosive back-to-back drives that scared Firebirds coach Kenny Molz. Those two plays cut a Fairmont lead that had been 19 to 39-34 in the first minute of the fourth quarter.

“He’s explosive and as much as we contained him for the game, all it takes is a little bit of lack of focus and missing one assignment,” Molz said. “He’s so good he’ll make you pay.”

Giving away big leads has been a recurring problem for the Firebirds, including in a 57-55 win at Northmont on Friday.

“We’ve just got to learn to handle success,” Molz said. “They play so hard to get a lead and then feel like they can relax a little bit. It’s not necessarily playing softer or not hard. Some of it’s just mental, like quick shots or missing a block-out assignment.”

Other than the bad stretch, Fairmont was dominant. They patiently worked the ball quickly until the got an open shot. The passing was so good that the Firebirds had 14 assists on 26 made shots and outscored Woodward 38-24 in the paint.

“We just want to be patient,” Doucet said. “We know teams will be good defensively the first three or four passes, but they’ll eventually break down. We work through screens and then we’ll just pause on the screen and read the defender and then try to make the right read and get uncontested at the rim.”

Doucet scored 20 points on 9 of 13 shooting and Aden Marrero scored 13 on 6 of 7 shooting. The Firebirds (13-1) shot 72.2% in the first half and 57.8% for the game. A lot of Doucet’s and Marrero’s points were layups. The Firebirds’ style of offense means their lack of size doesn’t hinder them.

“Our mentality is we have to do all the little things, the fundamentals, we’ve got to match or exceed how hard the other team plays,” Molz said. “If not, we’re not going to be good. We have to do the little things at both ends of the floor really well.”

When Molz returned to his alma mater as head coach three years ago, he told the players what kind of effort was needed to be successful. At first they didn’t completely buy in.

“They thought I was being over the top with it,” Molz said. “I think they’re understanding now that’s what it takes especially in a league and the area that we play in. We’ve got to play that way if we’re not going to be the biggest most athletic team out there.”

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