Esa Ahmad scored 16 points and West Virginia pulled away with a strong second half to beat Monmouth 71-53 in the opening round of the Myrtle Beach Invitational at Conway, S.C.
The Mountaineers (1-1) fell out of the AP Top 25 for the first time in 55 weeks after losing their season opener to Buffalo. However, the Thursday night win represented a bounce-back from a team many expect to contend for the Big 12 title.
Sagaba Konate finished with 14 points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots for West Virginia, which trailed 27-23 in the first half before closing with a 13-4 run. The Mountaineers center shot 1-for-5 from 3-point range, continuing to work on extending his game based on feedback from NBA scouts last spring.
Deion Hammond’s 10 points led Monmouth (0-4).
In the second half, West Virginia seized control with a 12-2 run in which point guard James “Beetle” Bolden scored six of his nine points and absorbed two charges.
“Press Virginia” forced 18 turnovers, but the Mountaineers were loose with the ball as well, giving the ball back 18 times.
Monmouth shot 35.3 percent from the floor, while West Virginia made 45.7 percent.
By attacking the rim, the Mountaineers attempted 37 free throws to Monmouth’s 18. The Hawks were whistled for 29 fouls to West Virginia’s 19.
West Virginia freshman Derek Culver, a four-star recruit, did not make the trip to Myrtle Beach, and coach Bob Huggins announced Thursday that the 6-foot-9 forward was suspended indefinitely.
West Virginia will face Western Kentucky on Friday in the semifinals of the event. Monmouth will oppose Valparaiso on Friday.
—Field Level Media