It was no secret going in to the contest that rebounding was one of the biggest factors to watch. Sitting at 1-2 in the national rankings, and with two of the best offensive rebounders on the planet, the action after missed shots was a part of every pre-game analysis. After WVU came out with a 37-27 win on the glass (and a +2 on the offensive boards), it was easy to pinpoint that result as one of the key factors in the Mountaineer victory. However, that stat line only scratched the surface of one of the game's key factors. It wasn't just THAT the Mountaineers owned the boards. It was the players that helped build that margin, and the way in which they did it, that bears interest.
First off was Kevin Jones. Although he was transcendent in the win, Jones failed to get an offensive rebound for the first time all year. Part of this was due to the fact that Jones was raining shots from all angles on the heads of Herd defenders, so there were fewer misses to grab. However, the fact that he didn't get at least one caused a raised eyebrow or two, and would have gotten more notice if West Virginia had lost. In his stead, Dominique Rutledge contributed three offensive rebounds to help the Mountaineers to an 11-9 win in that category.
Second, and perhaps most important, was the rebounding performance of WVU's guard trio. Truck Bryant (seven), Jabarie Hinds (five) and Gary Browne (five), combined for 17 retrievals – a huge part of West Virginia total of 37. While all three guards have had good rebounding performances this season, they haven't combined in one game to have the impact they did against the Herd. That's something that Huggins hopes continues in future games, because if it does, West Virginia is going to be very difficult to defeat.
The trio certainly benefited from the box-out efforts of Jones, Rutledge and Noreen, but they also did a lot on their own. They darted in from the perimeter to secure spaces that were cleared by their frontcourt teammates, and almost always blocked their counterparts away from the long rebounds that resulted from Herd jumpshot misses. There were a couple of lapses to be sure, but for the most part Bryant, Hinds and Browne limited the second chances the Herd usually enjoys. Marshall was credited with just eight second chance points in the game, and four of those came in the final five minutes of the game.
Third, Kevin Noreen came up bigger than most expected. Playing for the injured Deniz Kilicli, Noreen totaled six points and five rebounds, but also did yeoman work in keeping high-jumping players such Marshall's Dennis Tinnon off the glass. Tinnon is a genuine talent who plays above the rim (two of his early defensive rebounds appeared to be gobbled up about 12 feet off the floor) but Noreen, who has been shoved around by some of the bigger players he has faced, held his own in this match-up. He played with a determination and aggressiveness that he hasn't shown in some earlier games, and that helped WVU immensely.
Finally, from a team perspective, West Virginia did the best job it has done all year in recovering from its defense of high ball screens to get rebounding position. As WVU forced Marshall out of its offense, the Herd was forced to resort to a high screen in the center of the floor. WVU had its big men show hard on the opposite side of the screen, then scramble back to cover the screener as he rolled to the basket. Oftentimes, that maneuver results in an advantage for the offensive player, as he has a straight shot to the basket to either look for a pass or set up for a rebound. However, West Virginia's defense, especially in the second half, not only forced Marshall out of shooting position, but also rotated well to maintain good position for missed shots. That's not something that shows up directly in the stat sheet, but it went a long way in helping WVU own the boards.
Add these factors up, and it's easy to see why WVU gobbled up missed shots like PacMan. The Mountaineers snared 20 rebounds in its dominant second half, and likely would have gotten more had they not shot a blistering 61.5% over the final 20 minutes. WVU didn't even need its biggest player, Kilicli, to record one of its most impressive games of the year on the glass, but it did need these hidden performances to make it happen.