West Virginia has played well while awaiting the season debut of star Devin Ebanks. The wait might be over.
The eighth-ranked Mountaineers could have their star sophomore on the court Friday in their first real test of the season against Texas A&M in the semifinals of the 76 Classic at Anaheim, Calif.
An all-Big East rookie selection as a freshman, Ebanks has missed West Virginia’s first three games due to undisclosed personal reasons. Though there’s no timetable for his return, Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins said the 6-foot-9 Ebanks could return as early as Friday.
“We’ll have to see,” Huggins said. “It’s a matter of making sure he’s up to speed with what we’re doing. We’ll make a decision as the game unfolds.”
After averaging 10.5 points and 7.8 rebounds last season, Ebanks would certainly make West Virginia (3-0) stronger, but the Mountaineers have held their own against some weaker competition so far.
Averaging 79.0 points and shooting 46.0 percent, West Virginia has steadily improved since it was tied at halftime with Loyola, Md., in its season opener. The Mountaineers looked better in a 69-50 win over The Citadel on Tuesday and never trailed in their 85-62 victory over Long Beach State in Thursday’s tournament opener.
Casey Mitchell scored a career-high 18 points as West Virginia shot 51.8 percent, made 12 of 24 3-pointers and forced 22 turnovers.
“I would say we came out more focused as opposed to the other game(s),” said forward Da’Sean Butler, who had 13 points. “We want to win the tournament; we wanted to play as hard as we can to have a good kick off to the season.”
Butler’s averaging a team-leading 16.0 points per contest and Mitchell, last year’s junior college player of the year from Chipola College in Florida, 13.7 per game.
West Virginia’s road to the tournament title gets tougher with its first meeting against Texas A&M (4-0).
The Aggies look for a second straight upset after beating No. 19 Clemson 69-60 on Friday.
“I think it’s good early in the season to (play a lot of ranked teams) to see where we’re at,” said guard B.J. Holmes, who had a team-leading 20 points off the bench. “It’s great to play back to back teams that’s a high caliber and I think doing this is going to get us ready for the Big 12 and hopefully the post-season.”
Holmes and the Aggies hope for another strong defensive effort after holding Clemson to 33.9 percent shooting and forcing 18 turnovers. Opponents are shooting 40.8 percent against Texas A&M through four games.
Picked to finish fifth in the Big 12’s coaches’ preseason poll after finishing 24-10 and reaching the second round of the NCAA tournament last season, Texas A&M could turn a few more heads with another upset. Coach Mark Turgeon, however, remains cautious.
“We played OK, maybe Clemson didn’t have their best day so it’s just one day,” Turgeon said. “I like our team, I think we’re just going to get a lot better.
“How good are we? I don’t know.”
Aggies senior Donald Sloan looks to bounce back after being held to nine points on 4-of-11 shooting Thursday after entering that contest averaging 20.0 points.