Harris: Ebanks' defense shows NBA potential
BUFFALO, N.Y. - Each game Devin Ebanks plays for the rest of this season could be his last at West Virginia.
Ebanks, a 6-foot-9 sophomore forward who may decide to turn pro in a couple of weeks, was outstanding Friday in the Mountaineers' 77-50 win over Morgan State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at HSBC Arena.
Ebanks, who had 16 points, a game-high 13 rebounds and 2 blocks, dominated the game despite not leading the Moutaineers in scoring.
Some players change momentum by scoring points. Ebanks set the tempo by playing lockdown defense.
"Just trying to get it going with my teammates — let's go," said Ebanks, who helped West Virginia rally yesterday from a 10-0 deficit that had fans wondering if the Mountaineers would experience a repeat of last year's first-round NCAA Tournament upset loss against Dayton. "Can't have another close (tournament) game."
If you need statistics to gauge Ebanks' NBA potential, look at two.
The first is the scoring line of Reggie Holmes, Morgan State's 6-4 senior guard who averaged 21.9 points this season and broke Marvin Webster's school scoring record.
Ebanks fitted Holmes for a straitjacket, limiting him to only 12 points on 4-of-17 shooting.
"Holmes is a great player," Ebanks said. "Watching tape the past three days, I really tried to study his moves to the basket. Two dribbles in, step back, create an open shot. I'm taller and way longer than he is. I tried to keep my hand in his face and not let him get a clean look at the basket."
Morgan State won a lot of games this season thanks to Holmes' lethal jump shot. But with Ebanks making Holmes' life miserable, the Bears had no chance to upset the Mountaineers.
The other notable stat was coach Bob Huggins' decision to play Ebanks 18 minutes in the first half, more than any other West Virginia player.
"He's played everybody," Huggins said of putting his faith in Ebanks' defense. "We put him on (Villanova guard) Scottie Reynolds. We've put him on a lot of small guys. He's accepted the challenge to guard other people's best players."
Holmes, still upset at his press conference about the 27-point loss, refused to credit Ebanks' presence for his shooting struggles.
But Morgan State coach Todd Bozeman admitted to being a member of Ebanks' fan club.
"I heard (Huggins) say he put him on Reynolds," Bozeman said. "If he can guard Scottie Reynolds, he's an All-American, Big East Player of the Year."
Is Ebanks ready to take the next step• Was his performance yesterday enough to convince scouts he's ready for the NBA• Or should he wait another year?
Ebanks entered yesterday's contest averaging 11.8 points and a team-high 8.2 rebounds while ranking third in assists.
In describing his college career to this point, Ebanks, who was recruited by some of the top programs in the nation, said he selected West Virginia despite the possibility of not putting up big offensive numbers because Huggins favors a balanced attack.
Ebanks' total against Morgan State was his best scoring output since a 17-point performance Feb. 22 at Connecticut.
"We just try to do what we do best," Ebanks said. "Coach preaches to us: 'Don't step outside our element, just do what we do and we'll be a good team.'"
While Ebanks has repeatedly said he hasn't made a decision about returning to West Virginia next season, he welcomed a question about whether yesterday's performance improved his status with NBA teams.
"Even if I do go to the next level, I'm going to have to guard somebody good regardless," said Ebanks, who played a team-high 29 minutes yesterday. "I accept the challenge to guard the best player that Coach puts me on. He has a lot of trust in me. That gives me confidence to play good defense.
"Right now, I'm doing pretty good. I've worked as hard as I could the past two years."
Where Ebanks plays next year is open for debate.