The Mountaineers improved to 27-8 on the season and advanced to play Notre Dame in the second round of the NCAA Tourney on Saturday because it dominated the offensive glass against the Bison, winning that battle 17-9 which led to a significant 20-6 advantage in second chance points. On top of that, WVU, which averaged 67.8 percent from the foul line on the season, made 21-of-29 from the strip (72.4 percent) Thursday afternoon, including 15 of its final 17 in the last eight minutes of the 86-80 victory over the scrappy Bison (26-9).
“We just knew it was key for us to get offensive rebounds,” explained WVU junior center Elijah Macon, who finished the game with nine points and six rebounds. “Hitting the offensive glass is always key for us, but besides their big (Bucknell’s Nana Foulland), they didn’t have a lot of size. So, we knew we had to take advantage of that. Nate (Adrian) does what Nate always does (12 points and 10 rebounds), and Esa did a great job as well (15 points and six rebounds). I also think Lamont (West) came in and really was a key (15 points and two rebounds).
“We had to crash the glass, which I think we did pretty well,” added Macon. “We didn’t always finish on shots as well as we would have liked, but we did OK. Our goals coming into the game were to rebound, not settle for jump shots and to attack the rim when their big wasn’t in the game. We weren’t perfect, but we did it well enough.”
West Virginia barely held serve in the turnover battle, 15-13, and the resulting points off turnovers, 16-13, but it made up in other areas.
“Coach has been telling us for the longest while that turnovers and free throws are going to be the death of us, so if we limit turnovers and make free throws, we’ve got a great chance of winning,” noted Tarik Phillip, who was seven-of-seven from the foul line helping him get to 16 points with no turnovers.
Slowed by a back injury in late February, Ahmad continues to return to previous form. He’s now posted three straight double figures scoring efforts dating back to last week’s Big 12 Tourney. And his pair of offensive rebounds in the second half stemmed the Bison’s comeback effort.
“Esa's getting back to being Esa,” explained WVU head coach Bob Huggins, who is now 3-0 all-time in NCAA Tournament games played in Buffalo, as his 2010 Mountaineer squad started its Final Four run in Western New York. “When you’ve got a 6-foot-7 or 6-foot-8 guy playing against 6-foot-2 and 6-foot-3 guys, you ought to have an advantage. I thought Esa was good, and Nate’s always good. Elijah has just gotten better and better. We have to get our guards to do a better job. But I thought those three guys were pretty good. We miss enough shots, so there are enough offensive rebounds to go around.”
West Virginia won the overall rebounding battle 42-32. It was a category Bucknell knew was important heading into the game.
“The first thing you need to handle against West Virginia is you need to be able to get quality shots,” explained Bison head coach Nathan Davis. “That starts by handling the press. The second part is they’re significantly bigger than we are and we had to do a better job of keeping them off the boards.
“They were just bigger and more athletic than us, and when they run in the lane and jump, that matters,” continued Davis, who holds a 43-23 record in his two seasons leading Bucknell. “We weren't doing a good job of making enough contact away from the basket to negate their size some. We were trying. I thought we were fighting, but we weren't doing as well as we could have. Give them credit for being relentless at that end and not quitting on plays. In a lot of ways, that was the difference in the game.”