CONWAY, S.C., November 14, 2018 – The 2018 Myrtle Beach Invitational will close out Thursday’s four-game opening round with a classic David vs. Goliath matchup, as perennial NCAA Tournament team West Virginia takes on Monmouth at 7 p.m. ET.
The good news for Monmouth (0-3) is that West Virginia has already proven to be susceptible to upsets this year, dropping their season-opener at home to Buffalo 99-94 in overtime. The bad news for Monmouth is that the loss might have awakened a slumbering giant. The Mountaineers (0-1) are certain to enter the tournament with renewed motivation after falling out of the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time in 55 consecutive polls, two shy of the program record.
Four WVU players scored in double figures against Buffalo, led by junior forward Lamont West with 22 points and nine rebounds. But Buffalo outrebounded the Mountaineers 50-46 (including 21 offensive boards) and forced 19 turnovers while committing only 11.
“They just beat us at our own game,” WVU coach Bob Huggins said. “We have to get more fundamental. We’ve got to have some people step up and do a better job of leading this group.”
The Hawks face some challenges of their own, having lost each of their first three games this season – to Lehigh, Colgate and Saint Joseph’s – by double digits. Monmouth is shooting barely 40 percent from the field (24.6 percent from 3-point range) and has only two players averaging more than 7 points per game (Deion Hammond with 15.7 ppg and Ray Salnave at 10.7).
Still, Monmouth head coach King Rice saw signs for optimism in Monday’s 78-63 loss at Saint Joseph’s, with the Hawks sinking 48 percent of their shots and keeping it close well into the second half. “That was our best game so far this year. We competed the whole time,” Rice said.
Thursday’s evening session will begin with Valparaiso (1-0) taking on Western Kentucky (1-1) at 5 p.m. ET. Both teams got off to shaky starts this season before bouncing back nicely in their most recent game.
Actually, Valpo’s shaky start took place before the season officially began, as the Crusaders lost their only exhibition game of the year to Division II University of Indianapolis 60-57. They responded by blowing out Division III Concordia-Chicago 121-65 in the actual season-opener, behind 22 points from freshman guard Javon Freeman.
“I was proud of our response,” Valparaiso head coach Matt Lottich said. “We didn’t really compete (against Indianapolis). We challenged our guys to come back (against Concordia) and compete and win possessions, and for the most part we did that.”
Meanwhile, the Hilltoppers opened their season with a lengthy trip to the Pacific Coast to take on Washington, and they appeared to suffer from delayed jetlag. WKU sprinted to a 36-27 halftime lead, then was outscored 46-19 in the second half and lost by 18.
But like Valpo, a home game against an overmatched team proved to be therapeutic for the Hilltoppers, as they defeated UT Martin 86-71. WKU shot 52.3 percent from the field, scored 50 points in the paint and outrebounded UT Martin 45-32. Sophomore guard Taveion Hollingsworth led four WKU players in double-figure scoring with 22 points and seven rebounds.
“There was some good and some bad,” WKU head coach Rick Stansbury said. “The biggest thing I’ll take from it is understanding a little bit more about our rhythm and chemistry, and where some pieces will start to fit a little bit better.”