INDIANAPOLIS – Miles McBride knocked down shots from the start while West Virginia managed to convert turnovers into baskets in a defensive effort that satisfied coach Bob Huggins. It was enough to help the Mountaineers advance in the NCAA Tournament while giving Huggins a milestone victory.
McBride scored 18 of his 30 points after halftime to help West Virginia pull away and beat Morehead State 84-67 in the first round Friday night, securing Huggins’ 900th career win.
McBride was terrific in his first tournament game for the third-seeded Mountaineers (19-9) in the Midwest Region matchup. The 6-foot-2 sophomore made his first five shots and finished 11 for 17 from the floor with six rebounds and six assists, sending West Virginia on to face No. 11 seed Syracuse.
That included one six-point sequence when he hit a layup while drawing a flagrant foul, then hitting four straight free throws midway through the second half.
“It’s great to put numbers up on the board, but at the end of the day, I’m just about winning – getting a W in the column,” McBride said.
The Mountaineers needed his big night, too, with No. 2 scorer Derek Culver struggling offensively until deep into the game. Culver didn’t manage a first-half field goal before settling down to score 10 second-half points, which helped spark West Virginia’s pull-away move.
The hot-shooting Eagles (23-8) had far less trouble putting the ball in the net than they did protecting it.
Morehead State shot 52% and made 10 of 19 3-pointers. But the Ohio Valley Conference champions came in averaging a 22.9% turnover rate to rank near the bottom of KenPom’s national stats, then committed 18 on Friday night that led to 24 points.
“I thought it was probably as well as we’ve played in pressure defense,” Huggins said.
DeVon Cooper scored 21 points to lead the 14th-seeded Eagles, who were making their first tournament appearance in a decade.
“We knew we needed to take care of the ball in order to stay in the game with them, and we just kind of failed to do that with their pressure as the game went on,” Morehead State coach Preston Spradlin said, adding: “We stayed together and stayed in the game as long as we could there.”
Morehead State: The Eagles had won 19 of 20 since shortly before Christmas to make it back to the tournament. But they couldn’t repeat their 2011 first-round upset of Louisville despite a strong shooting night.
West Virginia: All nine of the Mountaineers’ losses have come against teams that made the NCAA field of 68, but they arrived in Indianapolis having lost three of four. They led by 11 early only to see Morehead State get within one early in the second half, but an 11-0 second-half burst ensured they wouldn’t relinquish that lead.
FEELING THE VIBE
The double-court setup in Lucas Oil Stadium provided an interesting pregame setup for the late tipoff.
The home to the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts is divided by a large black curtain. As North Texas closed an overtime upset of Purdue on one side, West Virginia players stood on the court on the dimly lit other side watching the game on videoboards and listening to crowd noise from limited fan attendance.
Eventually, the lighting kicked on to applause from fans and the 30-minute countdown to tipoff began.
“Just being able to be on the other side (of the curtain) and watching that game, you really feel the energy, guys get a little jittery and come out with a lot more energy,” McBride said.
West Virginia players began hugging Huggins afterward to celebrate the milestone win in an embrace that grew bigger and bigger until it was a group jumping around on the court. It came after two failed attempts to get the 900th victory as the Mountaineers lost back-to-back games to Oklahoma State.
That prompted Huggins to quip: “Took them long enough, though.”
“That was their topic of conversation,” he said. “It wasn’t mine, it was theirs, which kind of tells you what kind of guys we have. We have good guys.”
The Mountaineers face coach Jim Boeheim and Syracuse on Sunday.