COLLEGE PARK, Md. — West Virginia University women’s basketball coach Mike Carey expected his point guard, Chania Ray, to need some time to settle into the Mountaineers’ first-round NCAA tournament game against Elon on Friday.
“First time down the floor,” Carey predicted, “she’ll throw it seven seats up in the stands.”
Those nerves wouldn’t be due to the big stage of the tournament, Carey said, but because the game would be the first of Ray’s college career played near her hometown of Alexandria, Virginia.
In reality, Ray kept the ball on the court after the Mountaineers won the opening tip, but did start slow, along with the rest of her team. They overcame that sluggish start to win 75-62. They’ll play host and No. 3 seed Maryland at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, giving Ray another chance to play in front of her family and friends.
“At first, it was a little nerve-wracking,” Ray said. “But toward the end of the second quarter I settled down, and we settled down as a team.”
Ray’s mother, Meredith Davis, estimated the total number of Ray’s supporters at Friday’s game to be 60.
Davis, who said she calls Ray and talks before every game, said she could tell her daughter was nervous entering the matchup with Elon. On the court, it showed, Carey said.
“We were not moving the ball,” Carey said. “She just got caught up in the moment and wanted to do too much at one time.”
The team as a whole struggled to find its energy, players said, a mistake they know they can’t afford Sunday.
The Terps, ranked No. 3 in the AP Top 25, enter Sunday with the highest-scoring offense in the country, averaging 90.3 points. Maryland advanced to the second round with a 103-61 win over No. 14-seed Bucknell on Friday.
“You have to come out with energy from the beginning,” WVU guard Tynice Martin said. “If we [don’t] do that Sunday, it won’t be a good sight.”
Though Ray acclimated to the hometown environment Friday, the spotlight will be even brighter Sunday. Davis expects twice as many of Ray’s supporters to be in attendance when West Virginia plays Maryland, because it’s a weekend rather than midday Friday.
Ray appreciates all of the support, of course, but said the “most important” figure to her in the crowd is Davis, whose attendance at games this season was limited mostly to weekend games in Morgantown, the previous-closest place Ray has played in college.
The graduate of Riverdale Baptist in Maryland attended Florida State in the fall of 2014, playing in six games before transferring to West Virginia in the spring. The switch came partially out of a desire to be closer to Davis, who found out about serious health problems while Ray was in Tallahassee.
Davis’ health has since improved, she said, and she’s enjoyed having Ray closer by. When she saw the Mountaineers would be playing in College Park, though, and Ray would be playing near home for the first time, that meant even more to her.
“I cried. I literally cried,” Davis said of her reaction to the selection. “There was no way I would’ve been able to go anywhere else.”
Instead, Ray gets to play in front of her mother, along with possibly 100-plus other hometown fans.
“It was so overwhelming and heartwarming to see so many people support her,” Davis said. “They’ve seen her grow up through the AAU system and through high school.
“It was a pretty amazing feeling.”