BROOKLYN, NY - The first game of the NCAA Tournament first-round evening session at Barclays Center features third-seeded West Virginia and No. 14 seed Stephen F. Austin, both in the East Regional. The Mountaineers and Lumberjacks, appropriately enough, meeting in Brooklyn.
In the end there was an old-fashioned ambush. It came at the hands of the Lumberjacks, as Stephen F. Austin scored a resounding upset victory, 70-56, over the Mountaineers, a team some felt could get to the Final Four in Houston.
First Half: Looking at the first five possessions, it was a sluggish start for West Virginia, committing two turnovers and a rebounding foul through three trips. Esa Ahmad buries a three and the Mountaineers get on track. After the first five, (16:49) West Virginia leads 5-3. Pressure. West Virginia will come at you full court and pressure the guards in the half court as well. The big test is seeing Stephen F. Austin handle the pressure. When the Lumberjacks do break it, they are more apt to try a three rather than attack the basket. At the under-8 media timeout, they trail by just three. It was interesting to see how the higher seeded Mountaineers closed this half out. Stephen F. Austin’s defense has picked up. Not a shock, it is coinciding with an offense that has gotten more comfortable. The Lumberjacks take a one-possession lead into intermission, and have to feel good about the first twenty minutes.
Halftime: Stephen F. Austin 31, West Virginia 28
Possessions: West Virginia 37, SFA 36
Offensive efficiency: SFA 80, West Virginia 76
Second Half: Pressure out of the gate. West Virginia forces a turnover on the first possession of the half. Five possessions in, SFA leads 38-28 having ‘won’ those first five, 7-0. With just over fifteen minutes left, SFA leads by eight. West Virginia coach Bob Huggins is not in a panic mode on the West Virginia bench. Still, if you let a team; especially an underdog, hang around long enough, their confidence grows. West Virginia keeps the pressure on. The Lumberjacks are not getting conservative per se, but will milk the clock a bit each possession. Foul trouble is the enemy, however. The Mountaineers are in the double bonus with over eleven minutes left. Just under ten minutes left, both teams are in the bonus. West Virginia is down 11 with just over six to go, and is in an attack-the-basket mode. Penetrate to the rim or pitch out for a three. On their behalf, SFA is doing a good job rebounding in the stretch, denying offensive boards to the Mountaineers as they lead by a dozen entering the final two minutes, with only the clock to contest.
Final Score: Stephen F. Austin 70, West Virginia 56
Offensive efficiency: SFA 100, West Virginia 80
eFG%: SFA 37, West Virginia 34
Free Throw Rate: SFA 71, WVU 52
Offensive Rebound%: SFA 33, WVU 35
Turnover Rate: SFA 10, WVU 31
What Stephen F. Austin did well: Force turnovers. In a role reversal of consequence, the Lumberjacks forced 22 Mountaineer turnovers en route to a game-deciding 29-4 edge in points off turnovers.
What West Virginia did well: Extend possessions. Seventeen offensive boards led to an excellent 44 percent offensive rebound percentage. Unfortunately for West Virginia, those extended possessions came up empty.
NOTES: A total of 52 fouls were called. To little surprise, both teams showed high free throw rates. Both teams put just two players in double figures. Thomas Walkup (33 points, 9 rebounds) was 19-of-20 from the charity stripe for Stephen F. Austin. West Virginia shot 7-of-28 from the field in the second half. When the possessions did end in a shot for the Mountaineers, too often it failed to find bottom of the net. Devin Williams pulled down a game-high 17 rebounds. The Junior forward had eight on the offensive glass.
West Virginia finishes 26-9. Stephen F. Austin is 28-5, and plays the Michigan- Notre Dame winner on Sunday.
“Their play showed how focused and prepared they were, and we just didn't take it serious. They sped us up, made us do things that was uncharacteristic, and they just followed the game plan, and they just wanted it more.”- Devin Williams of West Virginia
“Well, they've worked so hard to make a run at this deal, and I feel bad for them. I feel bad I didn't do a good enough job getting them ready to go. We didn't have the greatest of practices, but all you can kind of do is tell them. We just couldn't -- we just didn't have that -- we kind of had that -- I thought we had the edge a little bit. We had that edge in the Big 12 tournament, and we just didn't get it back. Brad's got a great group. He's got five seniors guys, I think and guys that have been with him for three years. They run their stuff really well, and they've seen a lot of things, and they've made great adjustments. They kind of kept the ball out of areas where we wanted to get the ball. We helped. Don't get me wrong, we helped, and we made some horrible decisions. But I think that's what happens. I think, when you can keep a group together like that, you know. I think the good thing about being at a mid-major is you're not losing guys every year. I don't know why anybody would waste energy pressing us. We'll throw it to you regardless. That would be a waste of energy really. We're very charitable. We're one of the most charitable groups in college basketball. The second straight game we've turned it over 20 times, and that’s not taking away from Stephen F. Austin. Brad does a great job getting those kids to play so hard.” - West Virginia coach Bob Huggins
“We took a really good hit to open the basketball game. Stunned us, didn't knock us out. But I think it shows the true character with which these guys have, our team has. We fought back. And we stayed aggressive. But, again, I think that we established ourselves. We hit some timely shots late. Jared Johnson hit a couple. And then this guy to my left (Walkup) literally just took over the game down the stretch. All in all, very, very pleased. I'm extremely excited about the character with which we played tonight. The toughness. That's who we pride ourselves in being, and these guys are to be commended. I was a longtime assistant at Western Illinois. We didn't have players like Thomas Walkup. He was the best player on the court tonight. I don't know if he's that what that 's translates to in the beyond. Tonight he was the best player on the court. When you get seniors and you get a group that works -- I mean, this young man wasn't recruited out of high school. I mean, Division II schools recruit him. He comes to Stephen F. Austin, goes 19 of 20 from the free-throw line, and as a freshman was a 50-something percent free-throw shooter. He's a self-made student-athlete. He's everything that's good about college sports. It's all matchup based for us, and it was a reason two years ago in the VCU game that we were able to have some success because it's multiple ball handlers. We did talk about playing under their hands. And then staying 15 feet from the guy with the ball. So when they ran and jumped, we had great spacing, and we wanted to attack from there. We're not on TV. We're on ESPN3, every home game, and we don't have many home games because nobody plays us at home. So once we get outside of our league, nobody knows about us, and we're trying to change that. We have good players. Thomas Walkup is as good a player and IQ, effort, unbelievable human being, as there is. If I had to start a team, I'm going to be hard pressed to find one that I would take over him.” - Stephen F. Austin coach Brad Underwood
“Very good. Very dangerous. This is probably the most talented team I've ever played on. We have tremendous abilities and are very explosive at times. And on the other side of the ball, we sit down and guard the heck out of people. It's a dangerous combination. A couple of years ago, when we got an NCAA win, they thought it was almost a fluke. But I think now people are starting to realize that SFA is a really strong basketball program and really starting to make a name for ourselves.” - Thomas Walkup of SF Austin