West Virginia faces Elon in Shriner’s Classic opening day

NCAA Basketball

West Virginia will battle Elon in the final game on opening day of the 2021 Shriners Children’s Charleston Classic men’s college basketball tournament, which begins Thursday at TD Arena in Charleston, S.C.

The Mountaineers (2-0) enter the tournament coming off of an impressive 74-59 Backyard Brawl win over Pittsburgh at home last Friday night, while Zac Ervin’s career-high 29 points helped lead the Phoenix (2-1) past NAIA Bluefield College 89-72 last Sunday.

In the win over the Panthers, WVU’s Bob Huggins moved into a tie for fifth place with Bob Knight on the NCAA’s all-time Division I win list (902). With a win over Elon, he would tie the retired Roy Williams.

Led by 18 points from Jalen Bridges and 17 from Taz Sherman, WVU shot much better from the field against Pitt (30 of 59) than it did in its season-opening win over Oakland. However, a major concern for Huggins heading into the new campaign was rebounding following the departure of big man Derek Culver. For the second straight game, the Mountaineers badly lost the board battle, as Pitt had a 36-20 edge. But the Mountaineers’ aggressive defense did force 32 turnovers.

Huggins knows his team will be tested against the Phoenix.

“Like everyone else, they’ve hit the (transfer) portal,” Huggins said. “They got Power Five-caliber guys that transferred in that are very good. They run really good stuff and they make shots, and that’s the biggest thing. They shoot a lot of threes.”

Elon entered this season coming off its first appearance in the CAA title game, where it was the first No. 8-seed to make the tournament final. Much of last season’s core is back, led by second-team all-CAA honoree Hunter McIntosh and Darius Burford. In addition to the return from injuries of Jerald Gillens-Butler and Ervin, head coach Mike Schrage added transfers Torrance Watson (Missouri) and Andrew Junkin (Mississippi State). Five players averaging at least 17 minutes per game are connecting on at least 36 percent of their attempts from long range this season.

After a season-opening 74-61 road loss to Florida, the Phoenix have comfortably won back-to-back games against Division III Randolph College and Bluefield.

“You celebrate any win,” Schrage said. “We needed these two games to gain even more confidence going into the nonconference schedule we continue to play, but we’ve just got to keep getting better.”

In other tournament action Thursday, St. Bonaventure opens against Boise State, with Clemson-Temple and Marquette-Ole Miss also taking place before the Elon-WVU game.

–Field Level Media

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