The Marshall defense was smothering at the onset, forcing a total of 12 Mountaineer turnovers in the first half alone. The Herd had five separate players record steals including Meagan Samis who led the team with three takeaways to go with her seven points.
The Herd (11-8, 3-2 in Conference USA) lineup also managed to stay close to a much larger WVU squad on the boards, losing the rebounding edge just 42-39 in large part due to a 12-rebound day from Samis.
Marshall's Casey Baker battled with WVU's Sparkle Davis for a loose ball in the first half. Marshall led early, then fell 58-51 to the No. 12 Mountaineers. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
West Virginia (15-3, 4-1 in the Big East) was led by center Olayinka Sanni, who tallied a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Hart and Sanni were named Chesapeake Energy Capital Classic MVPs for each respective team. WVU received the new traveling trophy designed by Chesapeake Energy and Blinko Glass of Milton, W.Va., which drew praise as one of the most beautiful pieces of West Virginia glassmaking for a trophy in many persons memory for either team. The men's winner received a separate trophy, also designed in a similar manner but slightly different, by Blinko.
"They're a real good team," Marshall head coach Royce Chadwick said of WVU. "They're the best team we have played all year and they're going to go on and beat some great teams. I was happy with the way we battled for 38 minutes." Marshall has also played No. 19/21 Pittsburgh and Virginia, who is about 30th in the nation, and has beaten the Big 12's Missouri.
Nitro, W.Va., native Meg Withrow, who played many games at the Charleston Civic Center with the nearby Wildcats, battled with WVU's Lateefah Joye for a loose ball. The Herd returns to Conference USA play Saturday at ECU. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
Marshall's undoing proved to be its poor shooting from the free-throw line where the Herd hit just 14-of-26 attempts and missed several crucial shots down the stretch. "We missed a lot of free throws tonight and that's something that we've got to go back and work on," Chadwick said. "We just didn't execute when we needed to and that's why we didn't win the basketball game."
Kizzy Hart led all Marshall scorers with 18 points, and looked for room past WVU's Chakhia Cole in the first half. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
The Herd battled the Mountaineers from the opening tip and built a 15-9 lead with 9:33 remaining in the first half. Marshall trailed 23-22 heading into the break, but jumped back on top to start the second half as Samis opened the period with a three-pointer. The Herd scored seven unanswered points and built a 29-23 with 16 minutes remaining.
WVU retook the lead 32-29 before Hart and Casey Baker buried back-to-back three-pointers to reignite the Herd. With 7:15 remaining, the Mountaineers had taken a five-point but Hart again stepped up and knocked down a pivotal three. She hit from outside yet again with six minutes remaining and to cut the Mountaineer lead to three.
Marshall will return to league play to face East Carolina in Greenville, N.C., on Saturday. The Herd opened Conference USA play with a 81-55 rout of the Pirates in the Henderson Center on January 5. The road trip will continue Jan. 31 at Central Florida, then Feb. 2 at Southern Miss. Marshall will return home to play C-USA's top team at home on Feb. 7, UTEP, and will have five of six games at home in that stretch.