BUFFALO, N.Y. — If fourth-seeded West Virginia sounds eager to get this NCAA tournament started, it’s because it could end all the rehashing of their previous one.
Yes, Stephen F. Austin was a much-visited topic Wednesday as the Mountaineers prepped for this year’s opener against Bucknell.
“The taste is still in our mouths,” guard Tarik Phillip said. “Coaches’ mouths, players’ mouths. We don’t try to dwell on it too much, but it’s still in the back of our mind that we lost in the first round to a team we should have beat.”
Sophomore forward Esa Ahmad claims West Virginia (26-8) has benefited from more energized practices this time around, having seen the results from infamously poor workouts in the runup to the SFA loss.
“We should’ve went further last year but we weren’t ready to play,” he said.
Bucknell has its own “last year” motivation — losing in the Patriot League quarterfinals after winning the regular-season title. That relegated the Bison to an NIT bid.
“We know from experience that what happened last year doesn’t matter this year,” said Bison coach Nathan Davis. “We got upset in the first round of our league tournament as the No. 1 seed last year. That has little impact, if any, impact on what happens this year.”
West Virginia center Brandon Watkins stopped by the Bucknell locker room to meet up with opposing guard Avi Toomer, a former teammate at Grady High School in Atlanta.
“He was our freshman guard when I was a senior, and he was pretty good,” Watkins said. “We’re real close and I’ve kept up with him. When I found out we were playing Bucknell, I called immediately and said, ‘Bro, it’s crazy how this is happening.’”
Toomer, after leading Grady to the Georgia state semifinals last year and a school-record 28 wins, has appeared in every Bison game this season. He averages 3.1 points and 2.3 rebounds in 19 minutes.
While sinking six 3s during a 23-point outburst against Texas on Feb. 20, Lamont West wore the look of a zone-busting sniper.
He’s 1-for-14 from 3-point range since, a six-game stretch in which he has produced only 13 points.
“People say they don’t know how I could have went 1-for-14 on 3s, and I don’t know what it is,” West said. “I’ve kind of been rushing.
“But Steph Curry went 0-for-11 and I don’t think he changed up his shot. So I’ve just been in the gym more.”
Regardless how West shoots Thursday, the redshirt frshman will enjoy the game more than last year’s experience at Barclays.
“I didn’t even get to sit on the bench last year,” he said. “I had to sit in the stands, so that really hurt.”
Brey knows Buffalo bars
Notre Dame coach Mike Brey took timeout from his Princeton preparation to tout University of Buffalo football. His son Kyle played tight end here for 2008 through 2011.
“I still have an open bar tab at the Marriott Amherst. I’m going to have to clear that from 2008,” Brey said. “2008 MAC champs, baby!”
‘Can’t believe we’re driving on these roads’
While Princeton players are accustomed to snow, the winter storm made interstate travel nerve-wracking.
“We got here Monday night and it was snowing, and we woke up this morning and it was still snowing, and it hasn’t stopped since,” said guard Myles Stephens
“I’ve been telling the guys on the bus I can’t believe we’re driving on these roads that aren’t being plowed. I guess they just don’t care here. The drivers must be really good, but I think it’s crazy.”