Winning Its Way

In a game often has been characterized by the difference in effort and energy between the two sides, West Virginia won this year's version of the Chesapeake Energy Capital Classic in the way it beats so many in the Big East Conference: by imposing its will throughout.

The names may change and the roles might even differ, but there are almost always two constants to Bob Huggins coached teams: they play defense and they rebound.

Of course, those were the trademarks of the Marshall team whose players came into this game feeling phenomenally good about themselves, proclaiming for all who would listen after beating Central Florida this past weekend that they, and not Memphis, were the ones to watch in Conference USA.

But for all its merits, that league just isn't the Big East. If there were any doubts about that in what could be seen as a down league for the Big East, the Mountaineers ended them with a dominant performance on Wednesday night.

Through 17 games, no opponent had outrebounded the Thundering Herd. It led the nation in offensive rebounding as a team and individually (with Dennis Tinnon on top of the latter category).

If the Capital Classic was the first time you watched MU, you'd have never known it in either case.

West Virginia (14-5) took complete control in those areas, winning the overall rebounding battle 37-27 and holding Tinnon to a mere three offensive boards -- all of which came in the final 4:55, when the outcome was no longer in doubt.

The game truly broke open in the second half, though, when the Mountaineers turned a contest that was tied at halftime into a rout.

That development, by itself, wouldn't be all that interesting.

But it was telling when WVU players were asked the difference between the halves. Some pointed to the team's ability to run offense and make Marshall defend for the duration of the shot clock. Others saw their own strong halfcourt defense as the key. Others still pointed to a lack of turnovers (only three in the second half after committing eight in the first) as the difference.

In the end, coach Bob Huggins said all three were related. Because players stopped throwing the ball away, they could run better offense. Because they did that, they got better shots. And because they did that, MU didn't get the easy fastbreak baskets that gave it a brief seven-point lead in the first half.

And when the Herd didn't get those easy baskets, it wilted. Players started pointing fingers. It became clear, according to multiple Mountaineers, that Marshall just didn't want to defend for the full shot clock.

That, in essence, is the identity of West Virginia basketball under Huggins: it is willing and able to do the things opponents just want to do. It wants to rebound more than opponents do. It wants to defend more than opponents do. It wants to be patient and get quality shots more than opponents do.

For once, it wanted the Capital Classic more than Marshall did. You could see it in Kevin Jones' 1,000-watt smile with every made basket. You could see it in Truck Bryant's eyes, focused like a laser at critical moments.

Emotion met execution. WVU put all three Huggins' fundamental tenets together in the second half of this Capital Classic. The result was an easy win over what has been a reasonably strong Marshall team.


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