West Virginia to Battle Morgan State

  • March 14, 2010 10:25 PM
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By Ira Green for MSNsportsNET.com
March 14, 2010

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Following a much anticipated ‘Selection Sunday,’ West Virginia learned it will face Morgan State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament's East Regional on Friday, March 19, in Buffalo, N.Y. Tip-off at HSBC Arena is set for 12:15 p.m.

  Coach Bob Huggins sitting back, awaiting to see who the Mountaineers would face in the NCAA Tournament.
All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks

Coming off their first Big East tournament title in program history, the Mountaineers earned the No. 2 seed. WVU enters the NCAA Tournament with a 27-6 record, having won its last six contests. The Mountaineers currently have three players averaging double digits in scoring and are led by Da’Sean Butler at 17.4 points per contest. Kevin Jones is second on the team with 13.5, followed by Devin Ebanks at nearly 12 points per game.

The Mountaineers will have a little less than a week to prepare for Morgan State, but coach Bob Huggins has been pleased with the way his team has adapted to the tournament style of play.

“From the standpoint of them being ready, they go at it every day,” Huggins says. “Mentally, sometimes, you let your guard down, but we talked to them about being in a tournament with three games in three days and everyone had to be ready, and I think they were.”

No. 15-seed Morgan State, owners of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference regular-season and tournament titles, enter Friday’s contest with a 27-9 overall mark. The Bears knocked off South Carolina State, 68-61, in the MEAC championship game on March 13. Four players register double digits in scoring in the victory and the team shot 53.1 percent from the field. Kevin Thompson led the charge with 18 points and 10 boards.

Prior to the conference tournament, the MEAC announced its regular-season awards and all-conference teams. The Bears swept the major awards, as Todd Bozeman was named the coach of the year, Reggie Holmes was named the player of the year, DeWayne Jackson garnered rookie of the year accolades, and Thompson was named the defensive player of the year.

“I know Todd Bozeman very well and that's about it,” Huggins says on his knowledge of Morgan State. “I played against Todd when he was at Cal, and they had Jason Kidd and all those people.”

After matching up against the Morgan State coach previously, Huggins says he is aware of Bozeman’s tendencies to play multiple defenses.

The Bears have held opponents to 42 percent from the field, recorded nearly seven steals per game and forced a little more than 14 turnovers per contest.

On the other side of the ball, the Bears’ offense has gone mostly through senior Reggie Holmes, a first team all-conference honoree. Through March 11, Holmes ranked eighth nationally at 22.1 points per game. Since the conference tournament, his average has lowered to 21.1 per game. Of his 784 points, 239 have come from the stripe, as he holds an 82 percent mark from the free throw line. The guard, however, has a 2:1 ratio in turnovers to assists – 72 turnovers to 31 assists.

At 6-foot-9, 235 pounds, Thompson also has been a major factor in the Bears’ success, as he ranks second on the team with 12.8 points per game. Not only is he ranked third nationally with 12 rebounds per game, but he is tied for third in the nation with 21 double-doubles.

Jackson, the third and final double-digit scorer at 10.1 points, checks in at 6-foot-8, 210 pounds. The forward has shot 44.6 percent from the field and leads the team in 3-point shooting percentage at 43.9.

Collectively, Morgan State averages nearly 77 points per game on 43.3 percent shooting from the field. Beyond the arc, the team has connected on 33.8 percent of its tries.

The only time the two programs have faced each other came during the 1995-96 season, with the Mountaineers taking a 108-80 victory at home on Dec. 22.

All-time, Huggins is 1-0 against Morgan State, earning the victory when he was at Akron.

West Virginia is making its 23rd overall appearance in the NCAA Tournament and the third in as many years under Huggins. This is Huggins’ 18th appearance in the NCAA Tournament.

The winner of the WVU-Morgan State contest will face the Clemson-Missouri winner on Sunday, March 21.

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