Entering the game it was easy to understand why Coach Mike Carey would be concerned about a letdown. Marshall, under second-year Coach Royce Chadwick, are very much improved over last year's team that went 9-19 and came within five points of defeating the Mountaineers last January. The Herd entered the game tonight at 10-5, and boasted a roster of 13 players that would eventually see action, compared to a consistent rotation of seven players for the short-handed Mountaineers. Moreover, the strength of Marshall was in their grinding, rebounding, second-chance shot style, while playing a full-court pressure defense in an effort to wear its opponents down.
Certainly, on paper, it looked tough. But, it only took a few minutes for the game to break wide open for WVU. Marshall jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead before Sowho scored a bucket to make the game 4-2. Marshall, shooting perfectly from the field early, then took a 6-2 lead and continued to exchange baskets with Sowho and Paige to trail 12-10 at the first timeout with 14:10 left.
At that point, WVU broke the game wide open with a 14-0 run to take a 28-12 lead. That run was eerily close to the same time they made a 24-0 run against Notre Dame on Saturday, and it virtually ended the game. The Mountaineers expanded their lead to 43-21 at halftime.
Sherell Sowho loves playing the Herd in the Charleston Civic Center. She scored 24 there last year, and set the pace for the first half with 15 points on 7-8 shooting. Not to be outdone, Yolanda Paige destroyed a soft press by Marshall to key the scoring in WVU's run. She didn't do too bad scoring, either, with eight points on 3-4 shooting in the opening half.
The second half saw both teams exchange scores early before WVU extended the lead to 66-35 with around 12 minutes remaining. The only real concern from the game came at this point when Marhsall responded with a 7-0 run to make the score 66-42, It took the Mountaineers over seven minutes to score another field goal. Although the game was well in hand at that point, Marshall was able to pull as close as 20 at 68-48 with 5:20 remaining. But WVU found its shooting touch and minimized the turnovers in the final four minutes to pull back out to the 26 point victory.
The dry spell does raise concerns because WVU has had this problem in virtually every game they have played since the Delaware State match in December. The Mountaineers blew a 16-0 lead against Pitt two and a half weeks ago, and saw a smaller lead result in a loss to Seton Hall after going dry in the final two minutes of that game.
Against Notre Dame, the Mountaineers again saw a double-digit lead evaporate to four in the second half before pulling back out to their victory. Fouls and turnovers plagued the five scorelss minutes, which is especially painful with the lack of depth mentioned above. Nonetheless, the Mountaineers were able to maintain their poise and again preserve the victory.
I can't say enough about Yolanda Paige. I'm biased, but if I had a vote, she would get mine for the Nancy Lieberman award for the nation's best point guard. The Marshall defense couldn't stop her - they had to lay off the press out of what I would say was intimidation. Paige finished the game with 19 points on a hot 7-9 shooting and a big 12 assists. Sowho poured in 18 to continue her double-digit streak in Charleston, ending up 8-10 from the field. Meg Bulger scored a season/career high 16 points after again being named Big East Rookie of the Week. Kate Bulger had a "slower" night with 13, but she did tie Christie Lambert for WVU's all time career three-point field goals made leader with 256.
Catie Knable led Marshall with 15 points and a game-high 12 rebounds, most coming in the second half after the game was settled.
West Virginia advances its record now to 12-5, 3-2 in Big East conference play. The Mountaineers return to action Saturday at Syracuse.