CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Notes, observations and more from the first two days of the West Virginia Regional in 2021’s TBT.
The Elam Ending, as expected, can provide some great drama, as it did in Best Virginia’s 70-67 win over WoCo Showtime. It does, however, eliminate the thrill of the buzzer beater, as there is no game clock once the target score is set just past the halfway mark of the final quarter. In another sense, though, every game provides a walk-off score, even though some are just a formality, as one team might close out another after building a big lead through the first 3 1/2 quarters of play.
There’s yet another counter, to that, however, in that no game is ever “over until it’s over.” Even if one team is trailing by a big margin entering the Elam Ending, it could rip off a big run to rally for the win. That’s something that not going to happen in a regulation game where one team trails by 15 points with a minute to play.
The Stillwater Stars weren’t down by quite that much entering the Ending on Friday, as they trailed by The Enchantment seven at that juncture. They had already built momentum, though, rallying from a 72-49 deficit with less than a minute to play in the third quarter, and then rolling up a 15-7 run in the ending to take an improbable 84-83 win. Yogi Berra would approve.
The Stars might have exhausted their mojo in that game, though, as Eberlein Drive blasted them out of the tournament by the score of 119-67 on Sunday.
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Another note that jumps out about the Ending — getting that first score on the board is a huge momentum and confidence builder. It sets a tone that is similar to that of scoring first in overtime in regular games, and is often worth more than just the two or three points it adds to the scoreboard.
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Kudos to TBT organizers for recognizing the importance of COVID vaccinations. Those working on the floor, including media members, are required to show proof of such before receiving their credentials.
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Best Virginia will face D2, a 68-56 winner over Bleed Virginia, on Monday in the 9 p.m. nightcap at the Charleston Coliseum & Convention Center. Made up of former Division II standouts, there’s nothing second rate about the squad, which made a regional semi-final two years ago. D2 plays solid defense, hits the boards aggressively and gets scoring from a pair of former Queens University stars in Shaun Willett and Todd Withers. Willett was an All-America selection as a senior in 2018-19, and scores effectively inside despite a shortish 6-4 inch frame. Withers, at 6-8, earned numerous league honors, completing his Royals career in 2017. The duo combined for 34 points and 16 rebounds in D2’s first round win.
The D2 is definitely a worthy foe, but from a name and historical standpoint, it would have been fun to see a Best Virginia – Bleed Virginia match-up, not to mention the fun that could have been had in creating postgame headlines.
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Late additions to rosters, running right up until the opening of TBT, aren’t unusual, and Best Virginia made a huge pickup in getting Fairmont State alum Jamel Morris on the team. Morris was a member of the Underground Kings, a collection of Mountain East Conference stars, but when that squad didn’t get into TBT, he became available. Best Virginia, without scorer Jaysean Paige, and perhaps knowing that Sagaba Konate would not play, reached out to get Morris, who has had an excellent start to his professional career.
It’s a good thing that connection was made — other wise Best Virginia might be on the sidelines rather than playing Monday night. BV got off to a rugged early start against WoCo Showtime on Saturday, trailing 10-4 while missing seven of its first nine starts. Morris, though, came off the bench to score six consecutive points to help steady matters.
In the Elam Ending, he swished a 3-pointer from the top of the key to push his team to within four points of the target score, finishing with nine points in 16 minutes of action.
“We’re all kind of familiar with him,” Kevin Jones noted. “He’s a West Virginia, guy, going to Fairmont State, and Joe Mazzulla coached him. It wasn’t hard bringing him in here. He had a great mindset, and just wanted to come in here and help us win. Having a guy like that on your team, especially with the way he can shoot the ball, is a big asset. He helped us out a lot.”
Morris isn’t the only Underground Kings member in this year’s TBT. Concord College alum Tommy Bolte is playing with Ohio 1804, which is composed mostly of Ohio Unversity alumni.
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Finally, a few words about the possible Best Virginia – Herd That match-up on Wednesday. Some onlookers are so hyped up to get that game that they were asking questions about it as if it were scheduled for Monday, even though each squad still has to win another contest, against quality opposition, before that could happen.
Also, no matter how much anyone wants to make this into a WVU – Marshall game, it’s not.