PoG: WVU - Marshall

CHARLESTON -- The things that went right, at least from West Virginia's perspective, were few and far between on Wednesday night, when Marshall beat the Mountaineers 75-71 in the annual Chesapeake Energy Capital Classic. But No. 21 WVU at least made the contest respectable in the end, making it a bit easier to select a few performances and factors worth singling out.


John Flowers.

When the senior forward fouled out in the waning minutes of the contest, it felt like a huge loss for WVU. That anyone would have said that about the Waldorf, Md., native might have come as a surprise a year ago, but now it's just a sign that he has truly begun to rival Kevin Jones for the crown of the Mountaineers' most consistent player.

Flowers, again, was incredibly efficient Wednesday night. He shot only six field goals, but made four of them, including both of his 3-point attempts. He got to the free throw line eight times (tied with Truck Bryant for the most on the WVU roster -- and Bryant needed the benefit of two boneheaded Marshall fouls while shooting 3-pointers in the final minute to get to that point) and made six.

All told, Flowers had 16 points and seven rebounds. Both of those marks were good enough for second-best on the team. Casey Mitchell outscored Flowers by two points, but Mitchell needed 11 more field goal attempts to tally his 18 points.

If you need to know Flowers' value to his team, look no further than the fact that Marshall's first half run began not long after the senior picked up his second personal foul and was relegated to the bench.

In his better moments in the second half, Flowers locked down on MU's DeAndre Kane, making him largely a non-factor and limiting the Herd's offense to a system that relied solely on the work of Damier Pitts.

Alas, Pitts did enough to keep WVU at bay, largely because no one else on the Mountaineer roster is as good of a defender as Flowers. There's simply not enough of him to go around.

Without Flowers, this game might have still been a blowout of 20 or more points when the final horn sounded. With him, West Virginia rallied to within four points of what would have been a phenomenal comeback.

Simply put, WVU needs him to play at an extraordinarily high level to be successful. He has been in recent weeks, and, up until Wednesday night, the Mountaineers had been as well.


  • Easy-to-create offense for Marshall.

    West Virginia might be the team that came into the Capital Classic ranked in the top 25 of the country. It might be the team coming off a Final Four appearance. It might be from the mighty Big East Conference.

    But it has no one on its roster capable of creating offense by himself the way Pitts did for Marshall.

    The game plan first-year Herd coach Tom Herrion drew up was pretty straightforward down the stretch: spread the floor for the first 25 seconds or so of the shot clock while Pitts dribbled. With about five seconds left, send one player over to screen the defender on Pitts. Then, let Pitts come off the screen and fire a jump shot.

    It was devastatingly effective and deceivingly simple. With just a ball screen, Pitts had enough room to use his quick, accurate release and get good looks at the rim. He made enough of those shots to force WVU to over-help on the screens and send an extra defender to close out on Pitts. So when he did miss, a Marshall player was coming free with a chance at the offensive rebound.

    It was brilliant. Pitts made shots, and when he didn't, the Herd still was able to extend possessions, milk time off the clock and, in some cases, score easy put-backs.

    The contrast was easy to see: offense was almost always difficult to come by for West Virginia. Almost everything the team tried to do late to free Mitchell for 3-pointers failed. Cuts and curls to the basket were defended well, and nobody could create offense off the dribble or in any other simple way.

    Meanwhile, it looked so simple on the other side. Having a player like Pitts make the kind of shots he made on Wednesday night makes it that way. In so many ways, the Herd's star guard was the difference in this game.

  • The effects of foul trouble.

    Bob Huggins couldn't say so afterwards, so I'll say it for him: Wednesday night's game was as poorly officiated of a major college basketball game as you'll ever see.

    West Virginia didn't necessarily always get a raw deal because of the quick whistles. Marshall, to be sure, was victimized by some questionable calls. And in the end, each team was whistled for an identical 32 fouls -- a staggeringly high 64 personal fouls in total.

    But the way those fouls fell changed the way the Mountaineers played. Foul trouble impacted the lineups Huggins could employ, particularly in the first half, when seemingly every forward or center on WVU's roster was relegated to the bench for picking up too many personals.

    And because so many West Virginia underclassmen aren't skilled enough to play the various change-of-pace defenses Huggins occasionally employs (like the point-drop and matchup zones he called for in the second half), a certain lineup had to be on the floor to use those defenses.

    Even though Cam Thoroughman didn't score a point or get a block or steal or an assist, his disqualification after picking up his fifth foul (not surprisingly on a horrific, ticky-tack whistle) was a big moment in the game.

    It forced Huggins to change the match-ups defensively, allowing Marshall to go to a slow-down offense that simply ran the shot clock down to about five seconds, set a simple ball screen for Damier Pitts and let the guard (who torched WVU to the tune of 25 points) get a good look at the rim.

    Even on the occasions Pitts missed, the extra help the Mountaineers had to send his way allowed other Herd players to grab critical rebounds, killing more time off the clock.

    So while the officiating stunk both ways, it effected West Virginia more simply because of which players ended up in foul trouble.

  • Emotion.

    West Virginia players and coaches can derisively talk about how Marshall treats this game as "its Super Bowl." The Mountaineer fans can continue to whine about the fact that the Capital Classic interrupts Big East Conference play or the fact it's played on a neutral court -- or the fact that the game is played at all.

    It doesn't matter. Until WVU starts to treat this game like it actually matters, it will continue to occasionally fall victim to an upset by a Thundering Herd team that plays with a passion few (if any) of West Virginia's other opponents bring to the floor every season.

    Even Huggins, a venerable coach who doesn't get much wrong, missed out on this one. Asked earlier this week how the Marshall rivalry compares to other ones he has experienced as a coach, Huggins said it doesn't come close to the feelings of the Cincinnati-Xavier game he was part of for so long.

    Maybe that cross-city rivalry is bigger on a national scale because of the relative prominence and proximity of both programs. But in massive pockets of the Mountain State, WVU-Marshall is, as Huggins described Cincinnati-Xavier, "a holy war."

    One just needed to be inside the Charleston Civic Center on Wednesday night to see that. Regardless of what any Mountaineer fans might say on the other 364 days a year, this game matters. You just needed to see, hear and feel the atmosphere inside the building to know that.

    This game, every year, has an absolutely electric atmosphere. And for long stretches of the second half, this arena rocked every bit as much -- or moreso -- than the WVU Coliseum did for last Sunday's win over No. 8 Purdue.

    Some will cry for the series to be called off. They'll say West Virginia has little to gain and everything to lose, while Marshall enjoys the opposite circumstances.

    That's a lame excuse. On the hardwood at least, this game should, at this point, be seen as a rivalry match-up to those on the WVU side of things. Until the Mountaineers truly take that attitude to heart, they'll continue to be outhustled and outworked by a Marshall team that has, in recent years, simply cared more.

    There's no excuse for not caring, no matter who the opponent is. When it's your only in-state rival, the desire should only be magnified.

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