SAN DIEGO–West Virginia faces Murray State on Friday afternoon in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. While it’s not uncharted waters for the fifth-seeded Mountaineers, the 12th-seeded Racers are no strangers to the Big Dance either.
However, Murray State (26-5) hasn’t made an appearance in the tournament since 2012.
The Racers knocked off Belmont 68-51 to win the Ohio Valley Conference title and have won 13 consecutive games, heading into Friday’s matchup.
One big threat for Murray State is Jonathan Stark, the reigning OVC Player of the Year. Through 31 games, the 6-foot, 180-pound guard averaged 21.8 points and 3.9 assists per contest.
He is a 46 percent shooter from the floor and shoots 41 percent from beyond the arc.
Stark isn’t unfamiliar to WVU. In fact, the senior has ties to sophomore guard Beetle Bolden. The two were teammates and roommates in Spain over the summer.
“He’s a crafty player,” Bolden said. “He’s obviously the MVP of his conference, the OVC. So he’s a really good player.”
Terrell Miller is another threat that coach Matt McMahon can turn to. Miller isn’t shy in the paint.
The 6-foot-8, 245-pound forward averages 14.7 points and 8.3 boards per game.
Freshman point guard Demetrius “Ja” Morant (12.6 points, 6.6 rebounds, 6.4 assists). During crunch time, the 6-foot-3, 170-pounder has played with poise and has been a menace in the backcourt.
“Morant is a high-level point guard,” Mountaineers’ head coach Bob Huggins said. “He’s really good in transition, and probably as good at driving and finishing around the rim as anyone we’ve played.”
Leroy “Shaq” Buchanan (9.2 points, 4.0 rebounds) and Brion Sanchious (3.0 points) round out the starting five.
WVU’s relentless pressure could pose a problem for Murray State. Nonetheless, the Racers are one of the more efficient three point-shooting teams in the nation.
Murray State averages 78.9 points per game and shoots 48.5 percent from the floor, including 37.9 percent from 3. The Racers have outrebounded their opponents by an average of 5.7 per game this season.
This will be the first meeting between the Mountaineers and Murray State.
WVU is 6-1 against current members of the Ohio Valley Conference: Eastern Kentucky (2-1), Morehead State (3-0) and Tennessee Tech (1-0).
Cover Photo Credit: Dave Winder-Murray State Athletics