BUFFALO - The first round of the NCAA Tournament has been no picnic for the supposed heavyweights from the Big East Conference. So, when West Virginia, the second seed in the East Regional, fell behind 15th-seed Morgan State 10-0 less than five minutes into their game Friday at HSBC Arena, red flags went up across Bracket Nation.
The Mountaineers had seen Georgetown lose to Ohio, Marquette fall to Washington and Villanova barely survive Robert Morris, but they were having flashbacks to their own first-round flameout a year earlier against Dayton. "I thought about the Dayton game and tried to tell my teammates, 'Let's go. We have to step on their throats,' " forward Devin Ebanks said.
With leading scorer Da'Sean Butler struggling to find the basket, it was Ebanks and Kevin Jones who took control. Ebanks shut down Morgan State playmaker Reggie Holmes, and Jones scored the first nine points in a 25-7 run that gave West Virginia a 30-21 lead before halftime. Everything was right in the Mountaineers' world from that point and they won, 77-50.
"I'm glad we got our minds right," Jones said. "I wasn't being aggressive in the beginning. But my shot was falling, and I just got in one of those zones and it got us back in the game."
For a few minutes when the ball was going in for the Bears (27-10), it appeared they had enough size to create problems for West Virginia (28-6). But coach Bob Huggins got into his team pretty strongly at a media timeout, and the lights went on.
"We've done this where we don't attack," Huggins said. "We were playing pitch-and-catch on the perimeter. For us to be successful, we have to rebound, and then, we've got to throw it where we're good at scoring, too. My concern was getting pressure on the rim."
Jones penetrated Morgan State's 2-3 zone for 17 points on 8-for-10 shooting. Ebanks also was effective from short range, scoring 16 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. Holmes was the only Bear to reach double figures with 12 points on 4-for-17 shooting. Butler only managed nine points and shifted his emphasis to defense, getting five steals.
Butler said the Mountaineers didn't worry about their Big East brethren, but noticed "all their games were close. We didn't want to leave early. We wanted to take care of business."