A Hole Too Deep

CHARLESTON -- The green-clad Marshall supporters in the first few rows behind one of the baskets at the Charleston Civic Center sprinted to center court to celebrate with their team's players. The arena's public address announcer reminded observers there was a trophy to be presented. Bob Huggins made his WVU men's basketball team, defeated, sit and watch the celebration.

The Mountaineers, ranked 21st in the most recent Associated Press poll, sat in their chairs along the bench, watching dejectedly as the scene played out in front of them.

Once the trophy was presented to Marshall, they trudged into a tunnel and back towards their locker room. Faintly, they could still hear the yells and screams of Thundering Herd fans, deliriously happy with a triumph their team had earned in the annual Chesapeake Energy Capital Classic.

Marshall (13-5) jumped out to a 24-point lead with just under 16:00 to play, and WVU's rally was just too little and far too late, as the Herd held on for a 75-71 win here on Wednesday night.

The game changed in the latter stages of the first half and continued to slip away from West Virginia in the opening minutes of the second half. The Thundering Herd went on a staggering 31-3 run, holding Huggins' squad without a field goal for a span of 11:38, encompassing parts of both halves.

"We didn't do what we needed to do to win," Huggins said. "We weren't ready to play."

Indeed, MU led 47-23 at the first media timeout of the second half, and it looked as though the rout was on.

But WVU finally started to make a game of it, using a 17-2 run to draw back within 53-46 after Casey Mitchell made three free throws after being fouled while shooting a trifecta -- one of three times the Herd committed that cardinal sin in the second half.

Even then, the Mountaineers were struggling to score field goals. Thirteen of West Virginia's 17 points during the run came at the foul line, largely because the officials again called the Capital Classic closely.

A staggering 64 personal fouls were whistled in total (32 for each team), and Huggins' players were in the bonus with 12:22 to go and in the double bonus with 9:16 left.

But Marshall made its free throws as well, converting 10 of its 14 chances from the charity stripe in the final 2:00 of the game. It needed to, as the Mountaineers got to within three points after Bryant hit three more foul shots with 30.2 seconds left, making it 72-69.

This game recap presented by The Book Exchange
WVU couldn't keep the ball out of the hands of Damier Pitts on the ensuing possession, however, and the Herd's leader (with a game-high 25 points and a 10-of-11 performance from the foul line) all but sealed the outcome by making both of his free throws with 27.0 seconds to play.

Finally, West Virginia (12-5) couldn't get its desperate attempts to fall, missing three jump shots on its next trip down the court. Marshall's Dago Pena collected a rebound and made a foul shot with 8.1 seconds left. A meaningless jumper at the buzzer by Joe Mazzulla set the final margin and let the Thundering Herd fans run out onto the court to enjoy the upset victory.

"We were a possession away from tying the game," Huggins, clearly dejected, said. "We aren't good enough and don't have good enough players to not play the game right. It's painfully obvious."

There were few things the Mountaineers did right in an ugly first half, shooting only 33.3 percent from the free throw line (3-of-9) while committing nine turnovers. All told, Marshall held a staggering 21-8 edge in points off turnovers and an 8-0 margin in fast-break points.

And then there was the battle on the glass, where WVU did such an excellent job in finding a way to dominate then-No. 8 Purdue in a 68-64 win at the Coliseum last Sunday afternoon. The Boilermakers prided themselves on their ability to rebound, but West Virginia did them one better on that day.

The tables were turned this time around, as Marshall had a 25-18 rebounding advantage at halftime. Huggins' squad narrowly won that battle overall (42-41) after making up ground in the second half, but it was too little and too late.

"I told them at halftime the biggest indicator you're not ready to play is you get out-rebounded and you don't make free throws," Huggins said.

Both clearly applied to his team but didn't to an MU team that, as usual, brought incredible energy to this in-state rivalry game. The Mountaineers ultimately began to match that energy in the second half, sending the Civic Center crowd into a frenzy with a frenetic comeback bid, but there just wasn't enough time to overcome the sizable deficit they had built for themselves.

Marshall's guard Pitts led all scorers with his 25 points. He added five assists and four rebounds. Fellow guard DeAndre Kane overcame a shaky 5-of-12 outing at the charity stripe to finish with 18 points.

Casey Mitchell led WVU with 18 points, while senior forward John Flowers added 16 more to go with seven rebounds. Truck Bryant and Joe Mazzulla each added 10 more points. The latter point guard also contributed eight rebounds.

With the non-conference schedule finally over, a reeling West Virginia team will have to prepare to quickly jump back into Big East play, which begins again on Sunday with a game against South Florida at the WVU Coliseum.


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