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West Virginia is Being Careful Not to Take Morehead State Lightly in Opening-Round Meeting



(photo: Dale Sparks/WVU Athletic Communications)

Preparing for their first March Madness since 2017, the No. 3 seed West Virginia Mountaineers are making sure not to underestimate their first-round opponent, No. 14 seed Morehead State.

Morehead State (23-7, 17-3 OVC) won the Ohio Valley Conference championship over top-seeded Belmont earlier this month to secure the conference’s automatic bid and a trip to the national tournament. The OVC champs sport the top defense in the conference and the OVC freshman of the year in forward Johni Broome.

In scouting the Eagles, WVU coach Bob Huggins said he saw a team that is very capable on both ends of the court.

“They’ve got a lot of guys who can make shots,” Huggins said Wednesday. “They really do a good job of spreading the ball and the post guy [Broome] is very, very good…They’re all capable of making shots, they’re all very capable of having big nights.

“Defensively it’s not pack line, but it certainly has a pack-line likeness,” Huggins explained. “When you catch the ball you have to understand you have 10 eyes on you…We’ve got to do a good job of moving them. Hopefully, we can get them spread with the number of people we’ll put on the floor who can make shots.”

The Eagles lead the OVC in scoring defense (63.4 points per game), field goal defense (40.3%), 3-point defense (30.7%), rebounding margin (+6.5) and blocked shots (150). They were third in the conference in shooting (46.2%) and fifth in 3-point percentage (34.8%). Seven MSU players attempted at least 40 3-pointers this season and two, DeVOn Cooper and Skyelar Potter, attempted over 130.

According to both coaches, however, the most interesting battle of the night will be in the paint between Broome and All-Big 12 First Team selection Derek Culver.

“That’s going to be the marquee matchup of the night, no doubt,” MSU coach Preston Spradlin said. “We probably play through Johni a little bit more than West Virginia plays through Culver but he’s a fantastic talent…It’s going to be a great matchup, I know Johni’s really excited about it already and we’ll make sure we’ll get him ready for it.”

Broome led the Eagles in scoring (13.9 points per game), rebounding (9.0) and blocks (1.8) this season.

“He reminds me of Chris Bosh,” Huggins said. “He’s got that kind of push shot he gets away very quickly, he shares the ball in the post so he doesn’t get gang-guarded as much. You hope that Derek’s experience and Derek’s physicality would bode well for Derek and for us.”

MSU’s biggest weakness is controlling the ball. They led the OVC with 459 turnovers this season.

“Taking care of the ball is a huge key in the game,” Spradlin said. “You can’t just give them easy points. Easy points are offensive rebounds for them, putting them on the foul line or turning the ball over and letting them get out in transition.”

WVU and MSU will tip-off at 9:50 p.m. on Friday from Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The game will be broadcast on truTV.

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