The West Virginia Mountaineers are going to their third Sweet 16 in four years.
West Virginia, the No. 5 seed in the East Regional, handled the 13th-seeded Marshall Thundering Herd 94-71 on Sunday in San Diego to advance and set up a showdown with top-seeded Villanova.
Marshall played the role of Cinderella when it beat No. 4 Wichita State in the first round, but its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1987 ended at the hands of the Big 12 representative from its own state.
As he so often does, senior guard Jevon Carter spearheaded the effort for West Virginia on both ends with 28 points, five assists, four rebounds and four steals. The steals came as no surprise, considering he led the nation in swipes per game this season as the focal point of the suffocating pressure defense.
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Lamont West did his part off the bench as well with 18 points and 10 boards as part of a balanced attack that featured seven scorers with at least eight points and a 12-of-25 mark from three-point range.
Despite the scoring outburst for the victors, the primary storyline entering play was a battle between West Virginia's pressing defense and Marshall's ball-handlers. The only way the Thundering Herd—who are accustomed to playing at a fast pace, considering they are sixth in tempo in Ken Pomeroy's pace-adjusted metrics—would complete an upset would be to take care of the ball against the pressure.
That would allow an offense that consistently launches threes under head coach Dan D'Antoni, the brother of Houston Rockets head coach Mike D'Antoni, to generate open looks and prevent extended runs from the athletic Mountaineers.
It was not to be for the underdog, though, as West Virginia's press rattled the Conference USA representative from the start, creating 18 turnovers and coercing Marshall into a number of heavily contested looks.
As a result, the Thundering Herd shot a mere 39.3 percent from the field and couldn't keep up with the Mountaineers' blistering pace.
They also didn't receive the performance from Jon Elmore they needed to advance after he played the role of hero against Wichita State with 27 points. He was blown away in the individual battle with Carter and consistently forced the issue with eight turnovers and a 4-of-12 mark from the field on his way to 15 points.
He also had three of four straight turnovers for Marshall as it watched a 20-15 lead in the first half turn into a 34-20 deficit.
Turning defense into offense is a specialty for West Virginia with its infamous pressure, and that is exactly what it did during the 19-0 spurt with the athleticism to push the pace and get to the rim and either finish or kick it out for open threes.
The game was never in doubt after the Mountaineers built a 42-25 halftime lead, especially with the Big 12 representative drilling threes throughout to set up its defense as Marshall constantly took the ball out of the basket.
Attention for West Virginia now turns to a showdown with a Wildcats team that is more than capable of cutting down the nets as eventual national champions.
Villanova won the title in 2016 and has a backcourt combination in Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges that can handle the pressure defense it will see in the next round. They are each dangerous scorers who can hit from deep or attack the lane off the dribble and figure to respond to the extended press better than Marshall did.
West Virginia will surely need Carter to provide plenty of offense again as it looks to match the talented backcourt of the Wildcats on Friday.