CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Best Virginia believes its defense can measure up to any competition in The Basketball Tournament.
Should West Virginia’s alumni-based squad continue to display the offensive efficiency it did Tuesday against Herd That, a lengthy and memorable run could be in store over the next week.
Four Best Virginia players scored at least 15 points and the team shot nearly 50 percent from both the field (33 of 68) and 3-point range (11 of 23) to race by Marshall’s alumni-based group 89-79 in a second-round TBT contest at the Charleston Coliseum.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a big surprise on our end. We work hard to make open shots and guys have been finding guys in good space so they can make shots,” Best Virginia forward Kevin Jones said. “We work on those shots.”
The win advances top seed Best Virginia into the West Virginia Regional final at 7 p.m. Wednesday against No. 2 Bucketneers, an East Tennessee State-alumni based team that moved on in the first game Tuesday by virtue of its 83-80 win over War Ready.
In the nightcap, Best Virginia dominated much of the second quarter to seize control of the contest. With the teams knotted at 15 through one frame, BV rattled off 13 unanswered points to start the second and hold a 13-point lead it would never relinquish.
That stretch featured at least one basket from each of the team’s top four scorers in the contest — Jones, Jermaine Haley, Jamel Morris and John Flowers, the latter of whom made a pair of triples 27 seconds apart to give the WVU-laden squad a 28-15 advantage.
“I really didn’t know how good John was,” Best Virginia head coach James Long said. “He’s one of the best players in TBT.”
Another triple from Flowers moments later upped the advantage to 36-17, and though No. 4 Herd That responded with seven of the next nine points, Jones connected from long range to make it 41-24.
Yet just as it appeared Best Virginia would lead comfortably at halftime, HT closed the opening half on a 10-0 spurt over the final 2:06. That stretch featured six straight points from James Kelly, who scored a game-high 23 points in defeat.
Still, Best Virginia took a 41-34 lead into halftime after making 6-of-7 3s in the second quarter, during which time it made 10-of-15 field-goal attempts.
“Credit to them,” Herd That guard Jon Elmore said. “They played a heck of a game. They shot the lights out.”
Flowers and Haley combined for 21 first-half points on 8-of-9 shooting. Flowers made all four of his 3-point attempts, while Haley was a perfect 4 of 4 from the field.
“I’m just staying active and using defense to turn into offense,” said Haley, one of seven new additions to Best Virginia of its 11 players. “These guys put a lot of trust me in me and let me do what I can do. It’s about continuing to play hard, and when you play hard, the game comes back to you. It’s all on these guys for letting me be me.”
Herd That, meanwhile, struggled shooting from the perimeter and went to the break 3 of 16 on triples, but hung around by making 11-of-17 shots from inside the arc.
A four-point play from Cameron Young to start the second-half scoring allowed Herd That to trail by just three, but it would get no closer.
Although HT hung tough for much of the third, the game got away from them following Haley’s conventional three-point play that stretched what had been an eight-point lead to 58-47.
When Jaysean Paige scored inside moments later, BV’s advantage was up to 63-48, and it grew to 18 later in the quarter on Flowers’ fifth and final trey.
During the quarter, Herd That got out of a 2-3 zone defense it had utilized for much of the contest up to that point.
“We had a few too many defensive lapses,” Elmore said. “They play hard and that’s what they’re known for. They got after it. Those breakdowns cost us and we kind of dug ourselves too deep of a hole. We made a few runs here and there, but overall it wasn’t enough.”
Best Virginia settled for a 70-54 lead through three quarters and it was 80-61 when the game moved to its Elam Ending at the first stoppage in play under the 4-minute mark.
Although Herd That dug in during the Elam Ending to get the deficit to single digits on Kelly’s layup, Morris answered with the game-sealing basket — a mid-range jumper that the southpaw and former Fairmont State standout swished through to end the all-Mountain State affair.
“We have a couple plays for each situation [in an Elam Ending],” Long said. “You can’t throw too much at them in a week and we didn’t show too much, because we did have a comfortable lead.”
Flowers, Jones and Haley scored 17 points apiece, while Morris added 15. The aforementioned quartet combined for 20 of the team’s 33 field goals.
“You want to put in a good performance in front of your fans,” Jones said. “We wanted to stick to our game plan and stay composed. We got a little bit out of control, but for the most part we did a good job of that.”
Haley’s six rebounds were a team high, but Best Virginia struggled preventing the opposition from coming up with offensive boards for a second straight game as 20 of Herd That’s 45 boards were off its misses.
Elmore scored 16 points on 5-of-16 shooting, while Young had 14 points, but was held to 4-of-16 shooting.
Kelly’s nine boards led all players, while Trey Porter added eight in defeat.
Herd That made only 7-of-33 triples.
A crowd of 4,547 took in the contest, which was good for the second-highest attendance in this year’s TBT and the fifth-best mark in the event’s history.
“It was a great representation of two great universities in the state,” Elmore said. “It was a lot of fun.”
(Best Virginia postgame press conference)