By Ryan Decker, Originally written for West Virginia Illustrated
BUFFALO, NY – Four-seeded West Virginia (27-8) put together one of its best rebounding performances of the year Thursday in the opening round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
The Mountaineers dominated the glass, grabbing a total of 42 rebounds, 17 on the offseason end, led by Nathan Adrian, who grabbed a game-high ten boards.
Strong rebounding and Adrian’s double-double performance, coupled with strong scoring contributions throughout the Mountaineer roster, propelled WVU to a 86-80 win over Patriot League champion and 13-seed Bucknell (26-9)
“Nate makes plays like that every day, so when he makes a play like that that other people maybe think is a great play, we see him do it every day,” West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins told reporters after the game. “Seemed like every time we started to get away from them a little bit, they made a three.”
Bucknell came out as the more aggressive team, with Nana Foulland scoring seven of the Bison’s opening nine points. Foulland’s hot start forced Bob Huggins to try three different defenders against him early on.
West Virginia responded by going on 17-3 run over the next four minutes, taking a 25-12 lead and forcing Bucknell head coach Nathan Davis to call a timeout.
The run continued after the stoppage in play, with a layup by Lamont West as part of 13 straight points scored by the Mountaineers.
Davis’ timeout worked, though, as Bucknell worked to cut the deficit to under ten points with Foulland continuing to control things on the inside.
Bucknell got to within four points before Adrian was able to rattle home a turnaround jump shot with just under 5:30 remaining in the opening half.
Adrian finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Minutes later, the Bison pulled within one possession, but the Mountaineers scored the final eight points of the first half, including a lay in by West in the final seconds to give WVU a 42-33 lead heading into halftime.
Press Virginia forced seven turnovers in the opening half. Adrian and West paced the Mountaineers in scoring with 10 points each through the first twenty minutes of play.
The two combined to make arguably the paly of the game early in the second half, As Adrian dove to steal the Bucknell inbounds pass, and then quickly skipped it to a streaking West, who finished the play with a thunderous slam dunk.
“Just kind of what we do,” Adrian said. “We see a ball on the ground, we get on the ground, we got to go get it. We have to get ever 50/50 ball for us to win. I just grabbed it, try to get my head up, and look for the first open guy.”
Despite the highlight play, the Bison continued to stay within striking distance, as a fast break 3-pointer by Kimbal Mackenzie.
Mackenzie made a total five 3-pointers en route to a 23-point performance. Four of the five Bison starters ended the game in double figures, scoring-wise, including Foulland who finished with 18.
Bucknell shot much better from three-point land in the second half, knocking down four of its first six shot attempts from long range.
West Virginia refused to surrender the lead, continuing to dominate the rebounding battle and shoot the ball efficiently.
WVU easily won the rebounding battle, controlling ten more rebounds than the Bison.
“I thought (Adrian) was good, Nate’s always good,” Huggins said about the rebounding. “Elijah has just gotten better and better.”
The Mountaineer bench, led by West’s 15 points and Tarik Phillip’s team-high 16, outscored the Bucknell bench 37-5.
Press Virginia advances to face No. 5 seed Notre Dame in the Round of 32 on Saturday.
The last time WVU started the NCAA Tournament in Buffalo was 2010, when the team went to the Final Four.
West Virginia’s win also kept the Mountaineers from losing back-to-back years in the Round of 64 for the first time since the tournament expanded.