WVU thunders into Sweet 16 in Boston
And now, it’s back to Boston and the Sweet 16 for West Virginia after it drilled in-state rival Marshall, 94-71, in the second round of the far-flung NCAA tournament.
After dismissing the Racers from Murray State, 85-68, in its first game, West Virginia fell behind the green-clad Thundering Herd and then wheeled past them to lead 42-25 at the half of the game staged in San Diego.
Contributions came from Mountaineer starters and reserves alike – the way it has to in tournament play if a team is to advance.
Marshall’s reliance on three-point field goals made beating West Virginia all the more difficult when Jon Elmore and C.J. Burks kept missing from the perimeter and beyond.
The 17-point halftime lead the Mountaineers secured wasn’t wasted. WVU made 50 percent (33-of-66) of its field goal attempts, outrebounding the harried Herd, 40-24. Going 16-for-18 at the foul line made Marshall’s already troubling task even less likely.
Often-unreliable reserve Lamont West scored 18 points and had 10 rebounds, and the wildly unpredictable Teddy Allen scored another eight points in his reserve role. James “Beetle” Bolden added 11 points in his off-the-bench role, giving that threesome some 37 points in their valued-this-time role. It was also Jevon Cater with 28 points and Esa Ahmad making all four of his free throws in getting 10 points. Daxter Miles Jr. totaled nine points, and Sagaba Konate was able to score another eight points as the Mountaineers had one of their best scoring games of the 36-game season.
This evening, at 7:27 p.m., the Mountaineers face Villanova of the Big East Conference. The Wildcats are 32-4 and at one time were the holders of a 22-1 record before losing to St. John’s, Creighton and Providence in conference play.
West Virginia will attempt to pressure Villanova into a loss. Even if their pressure doesn’t exact a desired number of turnovers, West Virginia might continue to try its supposedly disruptive defense because Villanova has only six players who do the majority of its work in every statistical category. Six players just might wear down and show a reduced success rate as the game heads toward a last-minutes outcome.
However, those six players are a quality bunch. Led by Jalen Brunson (19.1 points a game) and Mike Bridges (18 points a game), the Wildcats have all six of those players (also Donte DeVincenzo, Phil Booth, Omari Spellman and Eric Pascall) scoring in double figures.
Villanova is a No. 1 seed and has tamed Radford, 87-61, and Alabama, 81-58, in its two tournament games. It owns wins this season over NCAA tournament entrants Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Gonzaga, Butler, Xavier, Providence and Seton Hall. The Wildcats tripped Xavier, Providence and Seton Hall twice this season.
Villanova is an excellent free throw shooting team, with three of its Big Six players making over 80 percent of their foul shots. Both teams should have vocal fan followings in Boston. West Virginia had a hardy and loud crew in its corner those 3,000 miles away in San Diego to see the much-savored win over Marshall.
The winner of the West Virginia vs. Villanova game will face the survivor of the Purdue vs. Texas Tech match in the Elite Eight on Sunday, again in Boston.
Villanova is a cerebral team that has a versatile group of athletic and sprightly players who rarely are confused or rattled by any opponent. West Virginia needs another well-populated scoring column from its reserves, as well as a high quality performance from Carter.
The demeanor of the teams will be anything but “sweet” here in the Sweet 16, and the ever-rising stakes should mean a juicy pace and needed individual performances to move on along the now-jumbled-by-upsets tournament trail.