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West Virginia wears down Monmouth in opening round of Myrtle Beach Invitational

CONWAY, S.C., November 15, 2018 – Despite a determined effort from the Monmouth Hawks, the West Virginia Mountaineers proved to be too imposing to scale.

West Virginia used rapid runs of 9-0 and 12-0 in the second half to break open what had been a surprisingly close game and pull away from Monmouth 71-53 in Thursday’s opening round of the Myrtle Beach Invitational.

Monmouth trailed by only two points at 41-39 five minutes into the second half, and the large West Virginia contingent at HTC Center was beginning to get antsy.

But the Mountaineers (1-1) ripped off eight consecutive points in a three-minute flurry that included two blocked shots, two offensive putbacks and a steal.

Then with Monmouth (0-4) still lurking around at 54-45 with seven minutes remaining, the Mountaineers drained a pair of 3-pointers in just 25 seconds, sparking their game-clinching run.

“For 25 minutes we were right there with them,” Monmouth coach King Rice said. “I feel bad for my kids. Their players are so big and strong at West Virginia, and Coach Huggins plays to wear you down. And I think my kids got a little tired with the physicality of the game. But we battled them. I’m proud of that part. Our kids did great tonight.”

For the most part the Mountainteers won the state sheet. They sank 45.7 percent of their shots (54 percent in the second half) while holding Monmouth to 35.3 percent shooting (30 percent after intermission), and they outrebounded the Hawks 39-32.

But West Virginia’s pressure defense did not result in a turnover advantage (both teams committed 18), and they missed 14 of their 37 free-throw attempts.

“We didn’t pass the ball. We shot it too quick. We turned it over way too much,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “We’re still fighting our way through it.”

Esa Ahmad scored a game-high 16 points for WVU and Sagaba Konate added 14 points and eight rebounds. Deion Hammond scored 10 points for the Hawks, the only Monmouth player to reach double figures.

Western Kentucky 83, Valparaiso 71

Sometimes basketball can be deceptively simple. If you make more shots than the other team, you win.

That premise was on full display in Thursday’s first-round game between Western Kentucky and Valparaiso. The Hilltoppers sank 51 percent of their shots, including 53 percent of their 3-pointers, while Valpo’s numbers were 39 percent and 29 percent.

Sure enough, that shooting difference showed up in the final score, as WKU defeated the Crusaders 83-71. But there was a little more to those numbers than meet they eye, especially when it came to the Hilltoppers’ shooting prowess.

WKU (2-1) kept feeding the ball inside to 6-foot-11 freshman center Charles Bassey, forcing the smaller Crusaders to double-team the post. So Bassey kept kicking the ball out to guards Jared Savage and Taveion Hollingsworth, who combined to make 15-of-27 shots and score 48 points.

“They have to respect Charles, so you throw it in there and they collapse on him, and then he’s a good enough passer to kick it back out,” Savage said. “Then it’s just up to us to make shots.”

The Hilltoppers certainly made their shots in the first half, going 15-of-27 from the field and 6-of-10 from 3-point range in building a 49-39 lead. Valpo (1-1) managed to close the gap to 58-55 with still 13 minutes left to play, but WKU responded with a 13-4 run.

“What makes them dangerous is they’re so good inside,” Valpo coach Matt Lottich said. “You have to have guys help out inside, and then they have players who are good enough to jump up and hit the outside shots.”

Markus Golder came off the bench to score 15 points and grab eight rebounds for the Crusaders.