The tone of the game was set on Best Virginia’s first two possessions of its 75-67 loss to Team 23 in the third round of The Basketball Tournament Wednesday night at the Charleston Coliseum.
Facing the longer, bouncier roster of Team 23 in the semifinals of the West Virginia Regional, Best Virginia won the opening tip due to the savvy of forward Kevin Jones, then ran a good set that produced a seemingly open layup for John Flowers. At the last second, though, Team 23’s Raphiael Putney soared in from behind to reject the shot.
The process was repeated on the next possession, only this time it was the attempt of Tarik Phillip that was swatted away. Team 23 turned that into a drive to the bucket and a layup, establishing the parameters of the game to come. Those two blocks were the only ones that Team 23 recorded in the game, but without question, it took away one part of Best Virginia’s offense.
Best Virginia, at a severe height and length disadvantage in the frontcourt, turned to its pressure game to try to generate extra chances but had to resort to mostly outside shots in its halfcourt offense in the face of Team 23’s dominance in the lane. Other than Jones, who made four of his seven tries inside the 3-point arc, and Jamel Morris, who had a couple of solid drives, Best Virginia’s offense became either transition attacks or 3-pointers, with 27 of their 54 shots coming from distance.
While 10 were successful, those and the turnovers generated by the pressure weren’t quite enough to offset Team 23’s drives to the bucket and resulting shots over the shorter Best Virginia players. Team 23 made 22 of its 32 shots inside for a 69 percent success rate to provide the difference, powered by a 13-7 advantage in layups and dunks.
To be sure, there wasn’t much else Best Virginia could do. It put everything it had into its pressure defense, switching ball screens and fighting through resulting mismatches with all the intensity of WVU’s Press Virginia teams of yore. It rallied from a 10-point deficit early in the third quarter to go up by eight with 6:21 to play, when it could have folded its tent. However, it managed just one more point against Team 23’s 10 in the two minutes and 32 seconds prior to the Elam Ending, and never recovered.
Without question, Best Virginia, in a bit of foul trouble, also ran out of gas at the end. Five of its players accounted for all but 47 of the recorded minutes of play, ranging from 22 to 31 minutes each. In contrast, Team 23 put 13 players on the court, with only two playing more than 23 minutes. At the end of a stretch of three games in five days, that was an advantage that weighed heavily in the final minutes.
Exhibit A in that case was a well-rested Marcus Hall, who played only 15 minutes for Team 23. He shook free to score 13 points in the final quarter (all after the 6-minute mark) to power its 9-0 run in the Elam Ending for the win.
Back in 2022? Did the Charleston area do enough to warrant a return visit from TBT next year? While the support for the local teams was loud, attendance was perhaps a bit subpar.
With the lower bowl baseline seats at the Coliseum not in use, and only a handful of fans in the upper deck, the best day of the event saw about 2,000 people in the lower bowl, which according to venue staffers seats 3,000 in that configuration. TBT officials did say that all of the lower-bowl tickets were sold out, but if that was the case, many went unused.
However, the availability of hotels, nearby dining and the space to set up a practice court on the opposite side of the Charleston Coliseum were all major positives.
Strong behind the scenes: Best Virginia forward and general manager John Flowers hinted at possible changes to the composition of next year’s team, but did note more than once that the presence of Dave Ryan, who handles so much of the administrative and logistics work, was critical to a return. He also said that the addition of more non-WVU alumni would be a possibility, and that the addition of some Marshall alumni might also be sounded out.
Flowers also noted that he hopes to talk with WVU officials about playing at the WVU Coliseum next year. Logistics for that could take some doing, as WVU hosts many summer athletic camps in the building.