PLAYER OF THE GAME:
When seemingly nothing else was going right for the Mountaineers, the same player who struggled so badly in last year's postseason made sure his team wouldn't fall into an insurmountably massive hole.
Jones reeled off nine straight points near the mid-point of the first half. The first four of those served to keep things close. The last five started a run that irreversibly changed the course of the game.
A 3-pointer from the sophomore, who struggled with his jump shot in last week's Big East Tournament, keyed a 21-4 run that turned an eight-point West Virginia deficit into a 30-21 lead.
By the end of the first half, he had 13 of what would ultimately be his game-high 17 points.
As Jones' game often is, it was the picture of efficiency.
The Mount Vernon, N.Y., native hit eight of his 10 shots from the field and grabbed eight rebounds. He did all of that in only 24 minutes of play, taking to the bench in the latter stages of what was, by then, a blowout to preserve his legs for Sunday's second round game.
In postgame interviews, Da'Sean Butler repeatedly called Jones both the "hardest worker" and "most consistent" player on the Mountaineers roster.
While it's hard to judge the first statement, most would agree with the second. His solid play makes things much easier for those around him to do what they do best.
While Butler gets much of the nation's attention when it comes to West Virginia basketball (justifiably so, after his breakout performances at the Big East Tournament), he is right in saying those around him are good enough to win games even when he's not scoring. Jones helped prove that on Friday at HSBC Arena. NET BURNERS:
Sure, the athletic forward had another double-double, tallying 16 points and 13 rebounds. Sure, he made all eight of his free throws.
But as he quietly has all season, Ebanks greatly limited an opponent's best player by being an imposing defensive figure all game long, using a combination of natural attributes (his alarmingly lanky frame) and skills he has acquired as a basketball player (the ability to move his feet with supposedly "quicker" guards).
On Friday, the unfortunate victim was Morgan State's Reggie Holmes. The senior guard was the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Player of the Year, averaging 21.9 points per contest.
Ebanks frustrated him all game. Holmes was only four-of-17 from the field in scoring 12 points. Three of those field goals (accounting for seven of those points) came in the final three minutes -- long after Ebanks had checked out of a blowout.
It's not uncommon to West Virginia fans at this point, but most of the nation simply isn't used to seeing a lanky 6-foot-9 forward defending shooting guards. But it's worked all season against the likes of Scottie Reynolds -- largely because Ebanks has embraced his role totally.
Sure, he loves getting his rebounds and points. That much was evident on his emphatic two-hand slam that punctuated a fast break while his team took control in the first half.
But he equally enjoys taking another team's best player and making him struggle. That gives the Mountaineers a chance in almost every game they play.
As it is prone to do at times, WVU started the game off with three straight attempts from 3-point range. Predictably, all three missed, and before the first media timeout, Morgan State had a 10-0 lead.
In that break from the action, third-year head coach Bob Huggins emphasized the need for his team to attack the interior of the Bears' 2-3 zone defense. It took a while (and a few jumpers from Jones) to soften that zone, but eventually, the Mountaineers took command in the paint -- and, concurrently, the game.
The No. 2-seed in the East regional finished with a 28-18 advantage in terms of points in the paint. They attacked in a variety of ways, scoring on put-backs, dribble penetration and high-low passes.
West Virginia simply wasn't capable of doing that earlier in the season. That's why almost every team that played a 2-3 zone game it fits. If perimeter jumpers weren't falling, the Mountaineers weren't scoring.
That's changed now. And with it, WVU's chances of victory in games against teams apt to play a zone has gone up considerably.
There were many candidates for this list Friday, but Butler eked out a spot because he showed that he isn't just a scorer. The senior is, without a doubt, a complete player who finds a way to help his team win every night.
By his lofty standards, his nine points were relatively unremarkable. His four-of-11 accuracy from the field was downright mortal.
But he did everything else at a high level. He grabbed six rebounds, registered three of the Mountaineers' staggering 20 assists, and had a jaw-dropping five steals.
Perhaps just as importantly, he played within himself. None of his shots were forced, and he didn't make silly passes when Morgan State almost invariably sent two defenders at him whenever he touched the ball.
Despite that near-constant double-team, Butler had no turnovers.
There have been games where the Newark, N.J., native has grabbed more headlines. He's scored more points and grabbed plenty more rebounds.
But perhaps no contest showed his maturity, his leadership skills and his ability to contribute in multiple ways more than this first round NCAA Tournament game did.