MORGANTOWN — Ricardo Wright didn’t bother taking a shot over the first 20 minutes, but the senior guard was absolute money in the second half Monday.
Right along with him, the SMU guard tandem of Zhuric Phelphs and Chuck Harris got going, too, and SMU ended up running right past West Virginia 70-58 in the first round of the Fort Myers (Fla.) Tip-Off inside the Suncoast Credit Union Arena.
Wright, who entered the game just 1 of 10 on the season from 3-point range, made the first four he attempted in the second half.
Each one of them helped the Mustangs (4-1) either erase a 36-25 halftime deficit or pull away.
“That second half, I worried with the game plan I envisioned them having with their deep rotation, their athleticism and the way they get up and down the floor,” WVU head coach Josh Eilert said on his radio postgame show. “How would we manage that late in the game? I thought we had a pretty good first half. We really rebounded it well. They took a lot of uncontested shots in the second half, and they started to fall for them. They wore us down.”
Wright finished with 12 points and Harris and Phelps — the Mustangs’ leading scorers — got in the flow to add a combined 29 points.
SMU advances to face Wisconsin in the title game.
Meanwhile, the Mountaineers (2-2) will now take on No. 24 Virginia at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the consolation game.
The Cavaliers (4-1) fell to Wisconsin 65-41 in a game that got out of hand quickly in the second half. WVU is 10-9 all-time against Virginia with the last meeting coming in 2017.
Virginia starting guard Isaac McKneely is a sophomore from Poca. He had nine points in 33 minutes against the Badgers and is averaging 10.3 points per game and shooting 45% from the floor this season.
WVU used a weird first half to take early control, but tired legs may have played a part in SMU shooting 60% (18 of 30) in the second half.
WVU’s normal eight-man rotation was cut to seven before the game, as backup point guard Jeremiah Bembry was injured in a practice and sat out.
Still, WVU built an 11-point halftime in what was a strange first 20 minutes.
WVU somehow took control while throwing bad and lazy passes and turning the ball over 10 times.
“We were getting a lot better shots in the first half,” Eilert said. “We had 10 turnovers, but still had an 11-point lead, which was promising.”
How? Well, eventually the Mountaineers settled down and started feeding Jesse Edwards the ball down low, while killing SMU on the boards.
WVU held a 25-11 rebound advantage at the break and SMU was just 3 of 12 shooting from 3-point range.
Edwards, a 6-foot-11 transfer from Syracuse, had 12 points and four rebounds in the first half, with four of his baskets coming on lob dunks and another after grabbing an offensive rebound.
He was constantly doubled- and sometimes triple-teamed in the second half and finished with 18 points and nine rebounds.
SMU took the lead for good with 10:04 remaining after Phelps sliced his way to the bucket for a lay-up and a 48-47 lead.
“We couldn’t get that offensive cohesion and couldn’t get our defense set in the second half,” Eilert said. “They wore us down.”
The Mustangs kept right on running and gunning from there, using a 12-2 run to take a 56-49 lead before Seth Wilson’s three from the corner gave WVU a little hope.
Wright’s fourth 3-pointer ended that hope, giving SMU a 61-52 advantage with five minutes left.
Wilson came off the bench to provide a spark for the Mountaineers, finishing with nine points and eight rebounds.
Quinn Slazinski was hot in the first half, but could never get going in the second half. He finished with 13 points.