BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — West Virginia overcame a miserable shooting start to avoid another Big East flameout in the NCAA tournament.
Kevin Jones scored 13 of his 17 points in the first half to spark the second-seeded Mountaineers to a 77-50 win over No. 15 seed Morgan State in Friday's first round. Despite the margin of victory, it wasn't an easy start for the Big East champs after West Virginia missed its first 11 shots and trailed 10-0 before the game was 5 minutes old.
With leading scorer Da'Sean Butler handcuffed by a double-teaming Bears defense, Jones proved to be the difference. The sophomore forward went 4-for-4 for 9 points during a decisive 21-4 run over a 6-minute stretch in the first half. Devin Ebanks scored 16 and added 13 rebounds for the Mountaineers (28-6).
Reggie Holmes scored 12 points for Morgan State (27-10), the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champ, which followed up its first tournament appearance last year with another bid this season. Kevin Thompson had eight rebounds and three blocks to go with nine points for the Bears.
The Mountaineers advanced to the second round of the East Regional on Sunday. They'll play the winner of the game between No. 7 seed Clemson and No. 10 Missouri, who meet later Friday.
Despite the early scare, it proved to be a far better start to the day for the Big East, after the conference's teams struggled Thursday. Georgetown, Marquette and Notre Dame were all upset, while No. 2 seed Villanova survived a major challenge, needing overtime to beat Robert Morris 73-70.
Morgan State appeared ready to follow the trend with its swarming defense aimed at shutting down Butler, who finished with nine points. The senior guard entered the tournament leading the Mountaineers in scoring (17.4 points), and his running jumper with 4 seconds left sealed a 60-58 win over Georgetown in the Big East title game Saturday.
With Butler missing his first four attempts, Morgan State got off to a 10-0 lead after Holmes hit Thompson for an open layup with 15:36 left.
West Virginia trailed 12-3 before scoring its first field goal with 12:15 left, when Devin Ebanks hit a hook shot from the paint. The basket sparked the Mountaineers back into the game, as they hit eight of their next 11 attempts and took the lead with 5:42 remaining in the half.
That's when Joe Mazzulla went coast-to-coast following Troy Smith's turnover and was fouled while scoring on a layup. Mazzulla completed the three-point play to put West Virginia ahead 22-21, a lead the Mountaineers never relinquished.
Coach Bob Huggins was so incensed over his team's poor start that he spent its first two timeouts yelling and motioning angrily at his players.
West Virginia didn't let up after halftime, eventually building a 63-33 lead midway through the second half. It was a far better start for West Virginia after it opened the tournament last year losing 68-60 in overtime to 11th-seeded Dayton.
The Bears' shooting fizzled, and they finished the game 18-of-61.
Morgan State was without sophomore guard Ameer Ali, who served his one-game tournament suspension after he was ejected during the Bears' first-round loss to Oklahoma last year. Ali was tossed after flipping Oklahoma star Blake Griffin to the court.
Bears forward Anthony Anderson — who was diagnosed with leukemia in October — hoped to attend the game but was too weak to travel to Buffalo. Undergoing chemotherapy treatment, Anderson was to watch from his hospital bed at Baltimore's Johns Hopkins, Bears spokesman Leonard Haynes said.