"We dug in. We were behind in the overtime, and we got a couple stops and hit some big baskets," MU coach Greg White summed up. "Tonight's about Marshall. This has been a long time coming."
Let's tell the story first.
If you were late to the game and missed, say, the first 8 minutes or so, don't worry: You didn't miss anything on either side of the ball. Really. Marshall's Monty Wright drilled a three-pointer at the 19:05 mark of the first half. And that's where the score stood, 3-0, for the next 4:15, thanks to some numerous missed baskets by both Marshall and WVU.
Marshall, now awake, promptly shot out to a 13-4 lead. WVU caught back up and tied the game at 18-18 with 6:31 left in the first half. Ron Blackshear's three-pointer began yet another MU run, this one 13 to 7, that enabled Marshall to enjoy a 31-25 lead at the half. Blackshear's 9 points (three three-pointers) provided the spark.
"We were ready to play," said MU's Tamar Slay.
In the second half, the spark literally became a fire. Or, the threat of fire. The Herd came out in the second half still on fire (note the recurring 'fire' theme: It'll appear again in a few moments), using a combination of astute defense and fast-break offense to run out again on WVU. J.R. VanHoose's layup with 14:58 left found Marshall with a 46-31 lead.
However, WVU got right back into the game thanks to the ace shooting of guard Drew Schifino. Schifino and MU's Blackshear engaged in a one-minute war of three-pointers with about 11 minutes left. Actually, MU's Tamar Slay started the war at the 11:41 mark. WVU's Schifino answered on the next possession with a three of his own. Then, Blackshear nailed a three. Then, Schifino hit another. Blackshear drained yet another three. When all was said and done, Marshall had answered WVU's barrage with an equal one of their own.
"We just came back and executed some open shots," said MU's Blackshear.
Marshall's Latece Williams goes after a loose ball in the second half.
Here's where the fire theme comes back. With 8:51 remaining, play was stopped and the Civic Center evacuated as the fire alarm had been set off in the building. Five minutes into the evacuation, the all-clear signal was given, and after a three-minute warm-up period play resumed. Bizarre, to say the least.
WVU's Josh Yeager tied up the game at 62-apiece, and from that point (6:52), Marshall and WVU literally exchanged the lead on each possession. Tied at 71, MU's Monty Wright was picked by WVU's Jay Hewitt and only :46 remaining on the clock. After a timeout, Hewitt's shot came up short and Marshall's Latece Williams rebounded the ball.
Marshall and WVU kept trading baskets until the 1:13 mark. WVU's Lionel Armstead tied the game at 79-79. After a timeout, Marshall's Ron Blackshear missed a three-pointer, but Tamar Slay picked up the offensive rebound and got the stick-back from the top-right of the lane for the game-winning shot. Down 81-79 with only 5 seconds left, WVU had one last chance, but guard Jay Hewitt's driving shot in the lane clanked out.
And that's how Marshall won, 81-79, in a thriller for state bragging rights.
"There's no excuse for us not coming out and playing hard from now on," Marshall's J.R. VanHoose said after the game. "We know we can do it. We know we can do it for two halves."
Tamar Slay led the Marshall scoring with 23 points, while Blackshear drained 20; J.R. VanHoose score 12, but grabbed an astounding 18 rebounds; Monty Wright chipped in 10 points, while Ronny Dawn and Latece Williams had 6 points each, and Wiliam Butler added 4 points.
"Our guards won the game," summed up MU coach Greg White. "Our guards won the game, period."