Joe Herber got things going early for WVU as he scored seven straight points in a 7-1 Mountaineer run to start the ballgame. The Mountaineers' stifling 1-3-1 zone defense forced Marshall into six turnovers before the first media timeout.
WVU would lead by nine points three different times in the first half as the Thundering Herd continued to struggle to get the ball past the long arms of Sally at the top of the key. WVU led 29-18 with 3:02 left on the turning first half clock and appeared to be ready to run the Herd out of the building. Marshall, the MAC's leading rebounding team, was being out rebounded, out shot and out hustled as every time the Herd scored, WVU seemed to have an easy answer.
However, Marshall finally seemed to find their rhythm and the secret to the 1-3-1 as Marvin Black (18 points, 10 rebounds) took a crossing pass from Enoch Bunch and jammed it home to cut the Mountaineer lead to 29-20.
D'Or Fischer then had his lay-up blocked by Marshall's Eric Smith and Marshall moved down the floor on the break. A. W. Hamilton then took his first and only shot of the first half and drained a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 29-23 with 1:41 left in the half.
Eric Smith then stole the ball from Kevin Pittsnogle, making the start alongside Fischer for the first time in the 2003-04 season and the green clad contingent started to make some noise.
Ten seconds later, Smith took a feed on the left side from Bunch, and calmly stroked a three-ball of his own to cut the lead to 29-26 with just 1:11 left in the half. Neither team could muster another bucket and the half ended with WVU clinging to the three-point lead.
Marshall opened the second half with possession of the ball and wasted little time in seizing the momentum. Hamilton took the ball at the left hash and moved past a nice screen by Black at the top of the key and drained another three-pointer to tie the game at 29.
WVU came right back down the floor and dumped the ball inside to Fischer, who calmly dropped in a lay-up to give WVU the lead once again at 31-29 with 18:09 to go in the game. WVU would not score again for four minutes.
Marshall continued on their run, which would extend to 20-2 over both halves, giving them a 38-31 lead with 15:05 to go in the game. Marshall, who played ten players, nine of which played at least ten minutes, seemed to be on fire, and the Mountaineers seemed on the verge of collapse.
But after a missed free throw by Marshall's Ardo Armpolu, WVU moved the ball around the perimeter nicely and Sally drove down the lane and drew a foul from Armpolu.
A 61% free throw shooter coming into the game, Sally dropped in both shots to start a 17-7 run that would eventually put WVU back in the lead at 46-45. Also included in the run were a Pat Beilein trifecta and another strong bucket by Sally with 7:05 remaining that put the Mountianeers up by three at 48-45.
Hamilton dropped in a ten footer to cut WVU's lead to 50-49 with 1:30 to play in the contest, but that is as close as Marshall would get. After a pretty good defensive stand by Marshall, Sally leaped over everyone, including his own teammates and snared an errant Herber shot and laid it in with one motion to extend the lead to three with :29 to go in the game.
Marshall Head Coach Ron Jirsa called a thirty second time-out and set up three-point ace Ronny Dawn for the tie. Dawn came around the left side and got an open look at a straight on three, but missed his fifth three-point attempt of the evening and Sally snatched the rebound, again, and drew the foul with :13 remaining.
Salley dropped in both free throws and the game was over. Marvin Black put in a layup with four seconds left in the game, and Sally was again sent to the line, this time with but :03 left in regulation. Sally calmly nailed the first of two free throws to give the Mountianeers their winning margin of 55-51, and sent the dejected Herd fans hastily headed for the exits.
Herber finished with 12 points and six boards for the Mountaineers. Jarmon Durisseau-Collins and Belein both finished with eight points each.
Black was the only double digit scorer for the Herd, as nine different players scored.
West Virginia returns to Big East play in the WVU Colluseum this Saturday against Boston College. Tip off is set for 4 p.m.