NCAA Tournament: Stephen F. Austin chops down Mountaineers

An early evening NCAA Tournament matchup saw the West Virginia Mountaineers and Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks battle it out. 

Day two of the Big Dance has been a marvelous time for the mid-majors as Stephen F. Austin recorded a monster upset over West Virginia at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

The game’s early phase saw WVU race out to a small early lead on the back of Esa Ahmad‘s hot shooting. Stephen F. Austin would battle back, though, through a combination of tenacious defense on the perimeter and sloppy offensive execution from the Mountaineers.

We knew going in that this would be a defensive contest with both teams in the top 30 for adjusted defense, but the two schools combined for 17 turnovers and 24 fouls.

West Virginia lost both categories, giving SFA more chances to keep it close. The Lumberjacks would use these extra opportunities to go into halftime up 31-28, despite being down one in rebounding and shooting far worse than West Virginia.

Thomas Walkup played a great first half to pace his team with eight points, six boards, three assists, and two steals. As good as West Virginia’s guards are, Walkup did major work in keeping SFA in the game, but he shot just 25% from the field and had two fouls before halftime.

Clide Geffrard Jr. and Demetrious Floyd pumped in nine and 10, respectively, to ease the scoring burden for the Lumberjack star.

On WVU’s side, Ahmad had 10 going into the break, but no other Mountaineer had more than six points and four players had just two points.

Stephen F. Austin burst out of the game in the second half to stretch their lead to 10 points thanks to a Walkup three and layup.

For their part, West Virginia continued to play poorly and continued to turn the ball over. It was impressive to watch WVU get beat at their own game of ball pressure to a team that lost their only game against an opponent inside the RPI top 50.

West Virginia spent the rest of the second half battling the surging Walkup, with Jaysean Paige and Tarik Phillip heating up from the field.

What helped a great deal was a long stretch where the Mountaineers didn’t give the ball away, forcing the undersized Lumberjacks to play in the half court. But it didn’t matter for the most part, as their shooting percentage dropped from over 50% to just under 30% during the second half.

After closing the gap to nine, WVU would see their deficit grow back to 11 thanks largely to Walkup and his unperturbed play in breaking the vaunted press.

In the end, West Virginia couldn’t overcome terrible ball handling and their over aggression on defense. The Mountaineers finished the game with 22 turnovers and 27 fouls. They shot just 31% on the game and their terrible offensive execution only compounded their woes on the defensive end.

This embarrassing loss ends an incredibly successful season for Bob Huggins’ crew. They finished second to Kansas in both the regular season and Big 12 tournament and returned almost their entire roster. The issue with WVU is that their style will likely land them right back in a first round exit next season if they can’t press without the ability to recover.

For Stephen F. Austin, it means they march onward to play the winner of Notre Dame-Michigan on Sunday. Walkup was an absolute stud in the 14 over three upset with 33 points, nine boards, four assists, four steals, and a block.

He shot 40% from the floor, an astonishing 95% from the charity stripe (19-of-20), and only turned the ball over twice.

I wrote about him before the tournament as someone who could take over a game and boy did he do that. Whomever the Lumberjacks play next will have to ensure they lock him down, lest they will fall in the same fashion as West Virginia.