BUFFALO, N.Y. — West Virginia’s center-by-committee received simple instructions for defending Patriot League player of the year Nana Foulland.
“Do not let him catch it on the block,” warned WVU assistant Erik Martin. “If he does catch it on the block, you’re out.”
Martin’s serious, and anyone familiar with the Mountaineers has seen players yanked off the floor for ignoring scouting reports. The hook will come sooner in a one-and-done situation, especially after guys were unresponsive against Stephen F. Austin in last season’s first-round disaster,
“Yeah, there’s an urgency to this game because of how last year shook out,” Martin told me Wednesday.
The slender, 6-foot-9 Foulland averages 14.9 points and owns the nation’s 10th-best shooting percentage (62.8). While he isn’t Bucknell’s top scorer — wing forward Zach Thomas pours in 16 a game — Foulland’s low-post leverage is crucial to a four-out offense.
Only a 55-percent free-throw shooter, he’s on a 9-of-11 streak entering the NCAAs.
“When he touches it, he’s looking to score,” Martin said.
Don’t look for West Virginia to overly respect Foulland by throwing double-teams at him on the block. The intent is to challenge Elijah Macon, Sagaba Konate and Brandon Watkins — all of whom are at least 15 pounds heavier — to front him straight up.
“Being player of the year in his conference is a great thing, but we’re just going to try to wear him out,” Watkins said.
Fresh off facing Texas phenom Jarrett Allen and Kansas State’s DJ Johnson in the Big 12 tournament, the Mountaineers should be ready to rumble. Macon suggested Foulland physically resembles Baylor’s Johnathan Motley, sans the 3-point range.
“It’s just another fun game to go compete,” said Macon, who posted double-digit rebounds against Texas and K-State in Kansas City.
At Berks Catholic High in Reading, Pa., Foulland played limited minutes until Penn State signee Donovan Jack graduated. Over his final two prep seasons — when offers surfaced from Seton Hall, UMass, East Carolina, and a group of other mid-majors — Foulland earned all-state honors and felt his game develop.
Now in his third year starting for Bucknell, he tops the Patriot League in blocks, raising the potential for some defensive machismo as he faces the finger-wagging Konate.
“I’d put my money on Sags getting more blocks (Thursday),” Watkins said. “What that kid has, that’s a gift right there.”
How did Foulland fare against other NCAA tournament teams? Try 10 points and eight rebounds at Wake Forest, 16 and five at Butler and 15 and 12 at Vanderbilt. While avoiding foul trouble most of the year, he picked up four in settling for 10 points and five boards during a 72-70 loss to Princeton.
The same Princeton could face Bucknell again in the NCAAs’ second round if the upset virus strikes Thursday.
Knowing Foulland would be integral to that scenario, West Virginia’s three bigs aim to fatigue him with force and physicality. Their directions couldn’t be more clear.