West Virginia outduels Bucknell
BUFFALO, N.Y. — Press Virginia had to vary its game to advance past its opening game in the NCAA Tournament.
Unable to break down Bucknell with its feared full-court pressure defense, No. 4 seed West Virginia attacked the backboards and netted nearly a quarter of its points on free throws to secure an 86-80 victory in a first-round game Thursday at KeyBank Center.
Tarik Phillip had 16 points off the bench to lead five double-figure scorers. Esa Ahmad and Lamont West each scored 15 points, Nathan Adrian had 12 points and 10 rebounds and Jevon Carter added 11 points for the Mountaineers (27-8), who advance to play former Big East rival and No. 5 seed Notre Dame on Saturday in the second round of the West Regional.
The Mountaineers entered the game leading the nation in forcing turnovers but scored more points (20) from their 17 offensive turnovers than they did from the Bisons’ 13 giveaways (16 points).
“We weren’t very good today in pressure,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said.
Adrian said, “Between now and Saturday, we have to get our heads right and play defense like we know how to.”
The 13th-seeded Bison were able to beat the Mountaineers’ press for 17 fast-break points.
“Once we saw we could get the ball in and get it up the court, it was nothing new to us,” Bucknell’s Stephen Brown said. “Coach said going into the game we’ve faced press before, but the biggest thing for us was second-chance opportunities.”
West Virginia also benefited from 21 free throw attempts in the second half, making 16. The Mountaineers went 21 of 29 from the line for the game.
“Coach has been telling us for the longest while that turnovers and free throws are going to be the death of us,” Phillip said. “So if we limit turnovers and make free throws, you got a great chance of winning.”
Patriot League champion Bucknell (26-9) was making its seventh NCAA Tournament appearance and trying for its first tournament win since 2006.
The Bison never led after the first four minutes of the game but were able to cut the Mountaineers’ lead to three points three times in the second half.
“We knew it was going to be very difficult to win the game,” Bucknell coach Nathan Davis said. “We felt like if we played well, we’d have a chance and we certainly did. ... They showed the heart of a champion.”
Kimbal Mackenzie tied a Bucknell record for most points in an NCAA Tournament game with 23. The sophomore guard made a career-high five 3-pointers on seven attempts. Nana Foulland and Brown each had 18 points and Zach Thomas added 13.
Villanova coach Jay Wright visited the Bucknell locker room after the game. Wright played for the Bison from 1979 to 1983 and is in Buffalo coaching his No. 1-seeded Wildcats.
“He told us to keep our heads up,” Mackenzie said. “Part of being a warrior is losing sometimes and we’ve got to learn how to lose just as we learn how to win. We’re very fortunate to have him in the locker room, giving us a couple words.”
Five different players scored during a 15-2 run that put West Virginia up 25-12 midway through the first half.
Mackenzie scored seven straight points to get Bucknell within 29-25, but West Virginia extended its lead to 42-33 by halftime.
NOTES: West Virginia is 3-0 in NCAA Tournament games in Buffalo. The Mountaineers won two games here in 2010 on their way to the Final Four. This is the only NCAA Tournament site that West Virginia has played at twice without a loss. ... West Virginia’s bench outscored Bucknell’s 37-5. ... Entering the game, West Virginia was 0-5 when allowing an opponent to score 80 or more points.