BUFFALO–Tarik Phillip scored 16 points as No. 4 seeded West Virginia University defeated No. 13 Bucknell 86-80 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at KeyBank Center on Thursday afternoon.
Lamont West and Esa Ahmad both tallied 15 points. Nathan had 12 points and 10 rebounds. Jevon Carter added 11 points.
The Mountaineers (27-8) struggled at times but avoided a repeat of last season’s meltdown.
Kimbal Mackenzie poured in 23 points, on 5-of-7 shooting from 3, for the Bison (26-9). Nana Foulland and Stephen Brown tallied 18 points apiece. Zach Thomas added 13.
“Foulland is a good player,” head coach Bob Huggins said. “He’s really good in any league. He’s athletic, and not just on the offensive end. He changed so many shots. He really disrupted us offensively with his shot-blocking ability.”
After blowing a two double-digit leads, WVU was finally able to put the game away. Phillip made all four of his free throws over the final minute and Bucknell’s hopes of pulling off an upset ended when Nate Jones missed a 3-pointer with 35 seconds left, keeping it a seven point deficit.
The Mountaineers jumped out to 27-12 lead on West’s layup with 12:15 to play in the first half. However, the Bison came back with vengeance and used a 21-9 run to pull within three, 36-33, with 4:13 remaining in the first half.
“What Bucknell did was make shots,” Huggins said. “They don’t always make shots that well – nobody does, Mackenzie was 5-for-7 from 3 and Stephen Brown hit some big 3s. It seemed like every time we started to get away from them a little bit, they made a 3.”
West’s layup with four seconds left pushed WVU’s lead back to 42-33 a the half.
Elijah Macon’s three-point play gave the Mountaineers a 45-33 edge in the opening seconds of the half but Bucknell fueled another run. Mackenzie’s contested 3 from the left corner cut the deficit to three, 63-60, with 8:58 to go.
“Mackenzie, he was hitting a lot of shots,” Phillip said. “They said he could hit shots and he hit them.”
The Mountaineers forced 15 turnovers but in return, they committed 13 miscues.
“We was ok,” West said of the team’s defensive performance. “We could of did better. I feel like at one point and time of the game we was doing good. We was getting steals and getting successful traps.”
WVU’s bench outscored the Bison’s 37-5.
The Mountaineers had a 42-32 advantage over Bucknell on the glass. WVU outscored the Bison 42-32 in the paint.
WVU shot 45 percent from the field, 45 percent from beyond the arc and made 21-of-29 from the charity stripe.
Bucknell shot 46 percent from the floor, 45 percent from 3 and 74 percent from the line.
The Mountaineers will face fifth-seeded Notre Dame on Saturday. The two teams were once former foes in the Big East.
Cover Photo Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA Today Sports