Mountaineers Open NCAA Tournament Play Against Red-Hot Murray State
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia is facing a twofold battle as it readies for Murray State.
First, the Mountaineers have been consistently inconsistent when it comes to their scoring. Jevon Carter has typically been in the mid- to upper-teens in scoring, and the senior is doing so without becoming a volume shooter. Outside of that, Dax Miles is currently hot – he hit for 66 points during the Big 12 Championship – after a cold streak that saw him score just 22 points over a four-game stretch in late January and early February.
Esa Ahmad disappeared against Kansas, missing four shots and going scoreless for the first time since he missed a dozen shots combined against TCU and Kentucky. Yet Ahmad scored 21 against Baylor, a longer and lengthier team than Kansas. Beetle Bolden is struggling of late, managing just six points over the three Big 12 tournament games after reaching double figures in three of the final four regular season games.
Lamont West hit Texas for 15 points on March 3, then scored six against Baylor before being shutout versus Texas Tech and Kansas. UT represents the only time the forward has reached double digits in the last seven games.
“It concerns us every day in practice,” head coach Bob Huggins said. “We have been terribly inconsistent shooting the ball. You never know who it is going to be. That’s the thing. Dax has been terrific, but he went through a stretch. Beetle and Lamont are going through a stretch. Lamont can’t buy one. Hopefully everybody starts shooting it well.”
That would be a boost, especially against a Murray State team which is shooting 48.5 percent from the field and 37.9 percent from three-point range. The Racers (26-5) enter with the nation’s longest winning streak at 13, and having been defeated by more than seven points just once. A fundamentally sound squad, MSU offers balanced scoring across the starting five, led by Jonathan Stark’s 21.8 points per game.
The senior guard is shooting 41 percent from three, and is sizzling at the stripe at 88.8 percent.
“He gets his own shots, really,” Huggins said. “They run him off some baseline screens and ball screen for him, but he gets a lot of shot son his own. He’s a more off-the-ball guy.”
Backcourt mate Ja Morant is the primary distributor at 6.4 assists per game, and the pair have played off each other to anchor the Racers’ run to the Ohio Valley Conference championship and the auto bid to the NCAAs. Add in agile forwards Terrell Miller and Brion Sanchious, and it presents a pressure for West Virginia’s defense, which is not only going to have to guard effectively in the half court, but also play a continual hustle game in getting back in transition when MSU wants to run.
“They are really good,” Huggins said. “They have great size. Starks is really good. The freshman point guard (Morant) is a very high-level point guard and their bigs are versatile. They are agile, they can run, they rebound it, they can shoot. One has made 70-some threes. They’re good. Jacksonville State had them down 21 and they came back and got within two. They can score in bunches. They have a lot of guys who can make threes, and they don’t have one guy dominate the ball.”
This will be West Virginia’s 29th appearance in the NCAA Tournament and its ninth in the last 11 seasons and 11th in the last 14. The Mountaineers have played 19 games all-time in California, but have never played in San Diego.
“I like San Diego,” Huggins said. “It’s not going to be like going to Kansas City and playing Kansas or Iowa State. Our crowd will probably be as good as anybody’s.”