WVU beats Bucknell, advances to 2nd round of NCAA Tournament
BUFFALO, N.Y. — Coach Bob Huggins has spent the past 10 seasons establishing West Virginia's reputation on playing a stifling press defense.
The Mountaineers performance Thursday left Huggins relatively unimpressed despite opening the NCAA Tournament with an 86-80 win over Bucknell on Thursday.
“Well, we weren't very good today,” Huggins said.
It wasn't easy for the 63-year-old coach to stomach watching West Virginia pull ahead by double digits in each half only to allow the Bison to mount a comeback.
Nathan Adrian scored 12 points and had 10 rebounds, while Tarik Phillip scored 16 points, including four free throws in the final minute to secure the victory.
Even Huggins' players acknowledged they can play better.
“We've got to get our heads right and play defense like we know how to,” Adrian said. “We've got to play a little better defense, but we'll fix it.”
At least, West Virginia (27-9) avoided a repeat of last year's first-round meltdown when the third-seeded Mountaineers lost to Stephen F. Austin.
The win sets up a meeting against the region's fifth-seeded Notre Dame Fighting Irish, who hung on for a 60-58 win over Princeton.
Kimbal Mackenzie made 5 of 7 3-point attempts and led the Patriot League-champion Bison with 23 points. Bucknell (26-9) entered the tournament having won six straight and 14 of 16.
Credit Bucknell for not collapsing.
Trailing 27-12 in the first half, the Bison closed West Virginia's lead to 36-33 on Avi Toomer's layup.
Then, after Elijah Macon completed a three-point play to put the Mountaineers up 45-33 in the opening seconds of the second half, Bucknell eventually closed the margin to 63-60 on Mackenzie's contested 3-point basket from the left corner with 8:58 left.
“We've been down a couple of times. We've been down big. And we know we're a mentally tough team that was able to fight back,” Mackenzie said. “We had a lot of weapons, and we didn't panic.”
Bucknell won twice this season when trailing by 11 or more points.
The Mountaineers' superior size proved a difference by outrebounding Bucknell, 42-32, and a 20-6 edge in second-chance points.
What was troubling is how the Mountaineers forced only 15 turnovers, well below the nation-leading 20.4 they were averaging entering the game.
At least West Virginia's offense played to its high-scoring potential.
The Mountaineers scored 85 or more points for the 17th time this season. And with 2,873 points, they're 12 away from breaking the school's single-season record set by the Jerry West-led team in 1958-59.
It didn't help that Bucknell's top player, Nana Foulland, missed a five-minute stretch of the second half after picking up his fourth foul with 9:37 left.
The Patriot League MVP and Defensive Player of the Year finished with 18 points and seven rebounds.