No. 7 Virginia, Morsell look to shoot down Maine

NCAA Basketball

Virginia freshman Casey Morsell found his shooting stroke in Connecticut.

The 6-foot-3 guard hopes to finally show it off for the home fans when the seventh-ranked Cavaliers (6-0) host the Maine Black Bears (2-3) on Wednesday in Charlottesville, Va.

Morsell was ice cold before helping Virginia win the Air Force Reserve Tip-Off Tournament championship on Sunday at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. He had missed 19 of 21 shots in his first three home games, tallying four points in 78 minutes against James Madison, Columbia and Vermont.

He broke out of the slump Sunday with a team-high 19 points, including the go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:02 left as the Cavaliers rallied to beat Arizona State 48-45. Morsell was 7 of 12 from the field and 4 of 4 at the line, earning a spot on the all-tournament team.

“Casey really came of age and made some tough shots,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “He didn’t back down. He just plays, and he’s tough-minded and he plays hard.”

Cavaliers fans have been waiting for a breakout from Morsell, a four-star recruit from the Washington, D.C., area who was ranked as the No. 6 shooting guard and No. 56 overall prospect in the Class of 2019 by the 247Sports composite.

Morsell started Virginia’s first two games, came off the bench in the next two, then moved back into the first five over the weekend. Against the Sun Devils, he scored Virginia’s last eight points of the first half with three layups and a dunk. He added two rebounds, two steals and an assist.

“It started on the defensive end,” Morsell said. “Just bringing energy on the defensive end (and) letting my defense lead my offense.”

Virginia senior forward Mamadi Diakite also made the all-tournament team after scoring 15 points and blocking a late 3-point attempt by Arizona State. He leads the Cavaliers with 13.7 points per game.

The defending national champions take a 20-game nonconference home winning streak into Wednesday’s matinee with Maine, the first-ever meeting between the schools.

Virginia is 10-1 against current members of the America East Conference, including a 61-55 victory against Vermont on Nov. 19.

The Black Bears’ only wins this season are against Division III Maine Maritime Academy on Sunday (90-50) and Division I newcomer Merrimack (84-64) on Nov. 6.

Senior forward Andrew Fleming had 23 points on 10-of-11 shooting and 10 rebounds in Sunday’s lopsided win, his 11th career double-double. He averages 20.4 points and 6.6 boards per game. Senior guard Sergio El Darwich (12.6) and junior forward Nedeljko Prijovic (11.2) also score in double figures.

“Getting a chance to play a team like Virginia is a great experience for us,” Maine coach Richard Barron told the Bangor Daily News. “You get to see where the bar is set.”

The Black Bears’ roster is college basketball’s version of the United Nations, with players hailing from 10 different countries. Pulling off an upset at Virginia would put Barron’s program on the map.

–Field Level Media

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