West Virginia starts slow, finishes strong in rout of Morgan State
Buffalo, NY (Sports Network) - Kevin Jones scored 17 points and Devin Ebanks added 16 with 13 rebounds, as West Virginia shrugged off a horrendous start and eventually rolled to a 77-50 victory over Morgan State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Da'Sean Butler added nine points for the Mountaineers (28-6), who fell behind 10-0 but regrouped to notch their seventh straight win. West Virginia, seeded second in the East Region, will next face Missouri in the second round on Sunday.
"I kind of thought about the Dayton game too from last year," Ebanks said. "Started off 10 points to our zero. Just trying to get it going with my teammates. Let's go. Can't have another close game. We have to step on the -- during the game we stepped it up and broke it out to a big lead."
Reggie Holmes scored 12 points and Kevin Thompson added nine for Morgan State (27-10), which had a seven-game winning streak stopped. The Bears won the regular-season title and tournament championship in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference for their second straight trip to the NCAA Tournament. Last year, also as a 15th seed, they were beaten by 28 points in a first-round game against Oklahoma.
West Virginia won its first Big East Tournament title last weekend and it appeared as though the effects of playing three games in three days at Madison Square Garden may have factored into Friday's sluggish start. The Mountaineers missed their first 11 shots with three turnovers in the first 7:45, enabling Morgan State to score the first 10 points on the way to a 12-3 lead.
Holmes and Joe Davis hit three-pointers for the Bears, while Thompson added a pair of buckets in the early 10-point burst. The Mountaineers finally found the scoring column with a free throw from Butler before Ebanks hit two more from the stripe.
After a basket by Morgan State's Troy Smith, Ebanks got a shot from the lane to fall for West Virginia's first field goal with 12:15 to play in the opening half.
Morgan State's lead was still eight a few minutes later, at 17-9, but West Virginia finally found an offensive flow. Jones ignited a 21-4 run with a three-pointer and Joe Mazzulla's three-point play with 5:42 left in the half gave the Mountaineers their first lead at 22-21. An Ebanks slam finished the burst, giving West Virginia 30-21 advantage before Davis hit a short jumper to stem the momentum.
The Mountaineers went into the break with a 38-27 lead behind 13 points from Jones, who made 6-of-7 shots. Ebanks added 10 points and seven rebounds over the opening 20 minutes.
Butler, who scored just three points in the first half, hit a jumper to start the second half and West Virginia continued rolling from there. A layup by Butler in transition gave the Mountaineers a 52-32 cushion with just 14 minutes remaining and the lead reached 34 as most of West Virginia's starters rested for the final 10 minutes.
"I think -- what's his name -- Jones, in the middle of our zone, he killed us in the middle of the zone," Holmes said. "That's what I was saying. Ebanks, he was getting a lot of rebounds that first half. That really kept them in it."
Jones finished 8-of-10 from the field and added eight rebounds...Ebanks and Butler combined to make only 8-of-22 shots...The Mountaineers won the only previous meeting between the schools, 108-80, on December 22, 1995 in Morgantown...The MEAC has produced two of the four NCAA victories for a 15th seed over a No. 2, as Hampton beat Iowa State in 2001 and Coppin State knocked off South Carolina in 1997.
03/19 17:17:43 ET