By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
March 18, 2010
BUFFALO – How long West Virginia sticks around in this year’s NCAA tournament will depend upon how many shots the Mountaineers can make.
||West Virginia coach Bob Huggins talks to the media before his workout at HSBC Arena in Buffalo, N.Y., on Thursday, March 18, 2010.
All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks photo
“Nobody’s ever won nothing-nothing,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins.
West Virginia (27-6) is looking to regain its shooting stroke despite winning six straight and eight of its last nine games. The Mountaineers have not shot 50 percent from the floor since beating Marquette, 63-62 on Dec. 29. Eight times West Virginia has won games this year without shooting at least 40 percent from the floor.
During last Saturday’s 60-58 victory over Georgetown in the Big East championship game, the Mountaineers shot 38.2 percent from the floor.
Tomorrow, the Mountaineers are facing a Morgan State team that has won 27 games and prides itself on its tough, physical style of play.
“The nation knows how physical West Virginia is, but the nation doesn’t know how physical Morgan State is,” said Morgan State coach Todd Bozeman. “In our conference, they treat us like that and they say we’re physical.”
The Bears defeated Arkansas, 97-94, on Nov. 24 and lost by nine to Louisville, 90-81, on Nov. 22. Morgan State enters Friday’s game winners of seven straight. Huggins is impressed with what he’s seen from Bozeman’s team this year.
“I think he’s done a great job,” said Huggins of Bozeman. “I mean, he continues to get guys that are as good as what they are. (Freshman DeWayne) Jackson, to me, is all-league in any league in the country. He’s very good. They can shoot it outside, they’re good inside. They play together. They play hard. They guard you.”
Huggins also noted Morgan State’s inside-outside balance.
“What they do conceptually is hard to guard because they stretch you so much because they can make shots,” Huggins said. “And then they’ve got people inside who can score the ball. I think every time we’re watching tape, every time (Kevin) Thompson got isolated he got a pretty good shot. It didn’t matter whether it was Louisville or Arkansas or whoever it was; he got a pretty good shot.”
Mountaineer senior guard Da’Sean Butler says he’s impressed with what he’s seen of Morgan State guard Reggie Holmes, who shows a 21.9-points-per-game scoring average.
“I saw the game they had earlier in the year against Louisville,” said Butler. “He can shoot the ball – he’s flat-out one of the best shooters in the country and one of the best scorers in the country. He does a lot for that team. Overall, he’s just a really good player. I look forward to playing against him tomorrow.”
Butler is also looking forward to putting the team’s disappointing performance in last year’s NCAA tournament behind him. The Mountaineers lost 68-61 to 11th-seeded Dayton in Minneapolis and Butler said valuable lessons were learned from that loss.
“Pay attention to what is in front of you as opposed to looking down the road,” Butler said. “I think we did a better job our sophomore year of just paying attention to what was in front of us because we were worried about getting in.
“Last year … we already knew we were in and we wanted to see where we were going to be seeded. Everybody was like, ‘Oh, well, you guys, I can’t wait to see you play Kansas, and, I can’t wait to see you play Michigan State.’ We never really got a chance to worry about Dayton. I made this a point in my head; honestly of just thinking about Morgan State right now,” Butler added.
Sophomore forward Devin Ebanks also recalled the disappointment of last year’s loss against the Flyers.
“We knew that we were the better team than Dayton but they were the better team that day,” said Ebanks. “That left a bad taste in my mouth and definitely my other teammates losing in the first round and being our first time in the tournament and having an early exit. So this year we are looking to turn it around.”
Morgan State has experience playing as the No. 15 seed, facing second-seeded Oklahoma in last year’s NCAA tournament.
“The difference is Superman (Blake Griffith) was here last year,” said Bozeman. “So we went up against Superman and we did not have any Kryptonite. In terms of drawing a comparison and how it might help us, I spent the first couple of years trying to explain to these guys the beauty of going to the NCAA tournament and the excitement and the emotion they would feel.
“And I couldn’t do it justice,” Bozeman said. “I said, ‘I’ll tell you what, get there and you’ll see what I’m talking about.’ They all said it to me as a man, ‘Boze, you were right. This is an unbelievable feeling and experience.’ I knew having guys returning that they would want to drink from that cup again. So that’s what we draw from.”
Friday's first round game will be played at HSBC Arena in Buffalo, N.Y. Tipoff is set for 12:15 p.m. Friday. MSN’s pregame coverage begins with the Coliseum Countdown at 11:30 am. CBS will televise the game nationally.