Morgan State coach Todd Bozeman hugs senior guard Reggie Holmes… (Getty Images )
BUFFALO, N.Y. — The end, for Reggie Holmes, came with 31 seconds left in a blowout loss, when he retreated to the Morgan State bench one last time Friday.
The beginning of the end came when West Virginia assigned 6-foot-9 Devin Ebanks to guard Holmes in their NCAA East Regional opener.
Holmes hit his first shot -- a trademark triple -- but spent the rest of the afternoon at HSBC Arena with Ebanks shadowing his every move, hand in Holmes' face, game in West Virginia's pocket.
The final was 77-50, Mountaineers, but the story was the job Ebanks did on Morgan's all-time leading scorer. It was a defensive masterpiece for which Holmes had no answers.
When Ebanks exited the game for good in the second half, Holmes was 1-for-10 with five points. Minus Ebanks, Holmes cranked in three more field goals to finish with 12 points on the day and 796 on the season. Ebanks, who scored 16 points and had 13 rebounds in addition to hounding the 6-4 senior, spent three days watching tape on Holmes.
"I really tried to study his moves to the basket," Ebanks said. "Two dribbles in, step back, create open shot. I was trying to eliminate his touches. When he got the ball, just stay in his face and not let him get a clean shot off.
"I try to use my length. I'm taller and way longer than he is. I try to keep my hand in his face and not let him get a clean look at the basket."
It wasn't the first time West Virginia coach Bob Huggins put Ebanks on a smaller guard. He also did it when the Mountaineers played Villanova and Ebanks guarded All-American Scottie Reynolds.
"We've put him on a lot of small guys," Huggins said. "And Dev has good feet. He's got good feet, but he has such great length. And I think the things that he was talking about, Reggie's step-back move ... the step-back move is a lot better when you have somebody who's not 6-9 and as long as Dev is."
Holmes finished his magnificent Morgan career in a shooting slump. He hit just 11 of 33 shots in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament, and closed out the postseason at a modest 30 percent (15-for-50).
Which is perhaps why Holmes didn't have much to say about Ebanks' effort.
"He's a great defender," Holmes said. "The shots just weren't falling today."
When Holmes' shots don't fall, the Bears' offense is in trouble. It was in big trouble against a quicker West Virginia backcourt. The Bears had eight of their 12 turnovers at point guard, where Sean Thomas (four), Joe Davis (three) and Danny Smith (one) divided time.
"We struggled a bit at the point guard," Morgan coach Todd Bozeman said. "Their length is significant. ... If we have a deficiency, it probably is with our point-guard play. But with that said, we won 27 games with the back court."
Huggins conceded the point was a point of emphasis for West Virginia.
"We try to pressure all point guards," he said. "We wanted to do that. We want to try to take them out of what they want to run. If you let them run what they want to run, they're very, very good."
Still, the 15th-seeded Bears (27-10) startled the No. 2 seed Mountaineers (28-6) with a 10-0 run to open the game. West Virginia missed its first 12 shots in the game before Ebanks -- who else? -- hit a jumper almost eight minutes in. Morgan's offense soon spun out of control.
West Virginia used an 11-0 run to erase Morgan's last lead (21-19) and take a commanding 30-21 advantage late in the first half. When the Bears made just one field goal in the first five-plus minutes of the second half, the rout was on.
The offensive meltdown was triggered, in part, when Kevin Thompson, the Bears' enforcer, picked up his second foul with seven minutes left in the half. Holmes got his second personal two minutes later and joined Thompson (nine points, eight rebounds, three blocks) on the bench.
"I'm not taking anything away from West Virginia because they're a good basketball team," Bozeman said. "But our margin for error is very slim when we have those two off the court. ... I was trying to get out of the half without [West Virginia] stretching it to double figures without those guys on the floor. We have depth, but we don't have Big East depth on the other side."
MORGAN ST. (27-10)
Thompson 3-9 3-5 9, Stokes 1-3 0-1 2, Holmes 4-17 2-2 12, Thomas 0-2 0-0 0, T.Smith 3-8 3-4 9, Braswell 0-0 0-0 0, Johnson 0-0 0-0 0, D.Smith 0-0 2-2 2, Davis 3-8 0-2 7, Jackson 3-12 1-4 7, Long 1-2 0-0 2, Foote 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-61 11-20 50.
WEST VIRGINIA (28-6)
Ebanks 4-11 8-8 16, Jones 8-10 0-1 17, Smith 1-4 0-0 2, Butler 4-11 1-2 9, Bryant 1-4 2-2 4, Thoroughman 0-0 0-0 0, West 1-1 0-0 3, Payne 0-0 0-0 0, Mazzulla 1-2 3-3 5, Jennings 0-1 3-4 3, Pepper 0-4 3-4 3, Mitchell 2-5 0-0 6, Flowers 2-3 3-5 7, Kilicli 0-2 2-2 2. Totals 24-58 25-31 77.
Halftime_West Virginia 38-27. 3-Point Goals_Morgan St. 3-19 (Holmes 2-9, Davis 1-2, T.Smith 0-2, Jackson 0-6), West Virginia 4-15 (Mitchell 2-5, Jones 1-1, West 1-1, Bryant 0-1, Smith 0-2, Butler 0-2, Pepper 0-3). Fouled Out_Jackson, T.Smith. Rebounds_Morgan St. 38 (Thompson 8), West Virginia 49 (Ebanks 13). Assists_Morgan St. 3 (Davis, D.Smith, Thomas 1), West Virginia 20 (Mazzulla 6). Total Fouls_Morgan St. 22, West Virginia 16. A_NA.