WVU Finds Diamond With Pressure Change
SAN DIEGO — Diamonds, as we all know, are created by pressure. However, it was a diamond that caused the pressure in West Virginia’s 94-71 win over Marshall in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday.
The start of the game played out as every person in the Viejas Center dressed in green might have hoped. The Herd got into its offense, spread the floor quickly and got four open 3-point shots. Three of them went down, staking MU to a 9-2 lead and putting the Mountaineers in an early hole. At that point, the Mountaineers changed tactics, going to a diamond and one (or 1-2-1-1) press that didn’t extend traps the full length of the court. WVU assistant coach Ron Everhart, who had the scouting assignment for this game, detailed the changes.
“We thought we needed to contain them. [Jon] Elmore is really sharp with the ball. He knows how to get behind the press and [Ajdin] Peneva is a good ballhandler,” the West Virginia native analyzed. “We thought that if we backed off a little bit after the ball got in and try to get some pressure in the three-quarter court it would be better. They are a really good basketball team. I think they kind of ran out of gas a little bit and got a little tired.”
This wasn’t a new press that West Virginia hasn’t played before. However, it hasn’t been used as much this year as in past seasons, and perhaps the Herd wasn’t as prepared for it as they were for other varieties of pressure. It eliminated the over the top passes that some teams, including Murray State, had used to defeat ball denial and traps deep in the backcourt, and forced the Herd to be more patient. That didn’t sit well with a team that is used to attacking quickly.
“Early on, [West Virginia] was in a man press, and I think it left gaps that we were able to take advantage of and pull [Sagaba] Konate out to the perimeter,” Marshall point guard Jerrod West said. “We were able to spread them out, attack and kick. But then they went to a 1-2-1-1 zone press that I think slowed us down. We couldn’t play as fast. They were able to trap and get us going to places we didn’t want to go. We didn’t attack it the way we needed to, and they were able to make shots off the press and get offensive rebounds as well.”
WVU’s offense, as it usually does when it experiences success, was keyed off its defense. The Mountaineers equaled Marshall’s total of 12 made threes on one fewer attempt, and in reality the gap was much bigger. Half of the Herd’s 3-point makes came after they fell behind by 23 points, and none drew them closer than 22 points of the lead during a second half that was, for the most part, just a running of the clock. WVU finished making an even 50% of its shots, and when it does so, its nearly unbeatable, as it is 68-5 under Bob Huggins when reaching that milestone.
“We shot the ball well,” Everhart said. “The way they defend they kind of play that NBA style and force you down one side, and I think one of the keys to their success in the postseason is that they have really been guarding well. That was concerning to us. We felt like we had to find a way to get the ball moving and swing it and get it reversed.”
That West Virginia did in a variety of ways. It swung the ball around the perimeter, ran motion to get the defense moving side to side, and employed high skip passes to the weak side on a variety of occasions. All of those combined to get the Mountaineers a number of good shots, and they took advantage throughout. Highlighted was a 5-6 run on threes in the early second half that removed any thoughts of a comeback and sent the West Virginia crowd into early celebration mode. Making, of course, for a diamond of a result.