Normally, the annual Capital Classic between WVU and Marshall has four main components. First, the game will be very competitive. Second, there will be plenty of fouls. Third, something weird will happen. Fourth, it will be a low-scoring affair.
For this year's game, the first three certainly held up. The fourth, however, took the year off. Regardless, the final outcome was the same as it almost always is. West Virginia shot 53 percent from the field as it sped past the Thundering Herd by a final of 87-76 inside the sold out Charleston Civic Center.
The yearly clash between the intrastate rivals had its annual bizarre moment at the outset of the second half when a shot-clock malfunction delayed the start of the final frame by a solid 10 minutes. It was ultimately determined by Civic Center officials that the malfunction could not be fixed in a timely manner. Instead, public address announcer Don Cook bellowed out the final 20 seconds of the 35-second clock in increments of five for the entire second half.
None of this, though, seemed to bother the Mountaineers, who trailed just once in the game en route to their third consecutive victory in the series. Leading the way was freshman point guard Darryl "Truck" Bryant, who rebounded from a subpar effort in Saturday's loss at Marquette with a game-high 22 points on four of eight shooting.
Bryant, who played 37 minutes, did a great job of getting into the lane and drawing contact, which resulted in 15 free-throw attempts for the Brooklyn native. He sank 11. As a team, West Virginia made 30 of its 42 attempts from the line, taking advantage of 29 personal fouls on the Thundering Herd.
Marshall, meanwhile, was just 14-26 from the charity stripe. MU standout Markell Humphrey, who finished with 13 points and eight rebounds, was the main culprit, finishing just one-of-seven at the line. Marshall's inability to hit foul shots wasn't the only thing that plagued the Thundering Herd. MU turned the ball over 11 times, which led to 17 points for West Virginia.
The most noticeable struggles for the Herd game on the defensive end, where MU was unable to control Bryant.
"I don't know that the free throws were the only thing that beat us tonight because you have to do everything right to beat a team like West Virginia," said second-year Marshall head coach Donnie Jones, who is winless in two attempts against WVU.
Meanwhile, the West Virginia defense was smothering, at least in the first half. Marshall made just nine shots in the opening half, allowing the Mountaineers to build a comfortable first-half lead which kept MU at arm's length.
Though the Mountaineers struggled to score at times, their defensive efforts were good enough to go into the locker room with an 11-point lead.
On the flipside, the second half – once it eventually started – was anything but defensive. WVU opened the half on an 11-2 run to break the game wide open. Included in that run were a pair of 3s by Bryant sandwiched around another triple from senior guard Alex Ruoff, who finished with 15 points. The barrage of long-range shooting was a welcome change for head coach Bob Huggins and the Mountaineers, who have struggled for much of the season to connect from downtown.
"Give them credit," said Jones, a Pt. Pleasant native and former assistant to Billy Donovan at Florida. "They hit 3s that they haven't been hitting lately. They hit some big 3s. Bryant, the point guard, hit a couple of them. We were able to score, we just weren't able to stop them. They had the ball a lot and we couldn't stop them."
Marshall, as it always seems to do in this game, made a run, but never to the point where West Virginia's double-digit lead was seriously threatened. MU pulled to within 10 on an and-one by freshman point guard Damier Pitts at the 11:52 mark, but that was as close as the Thundering Herd would come.
WVU's was able to handle Marshall's full-court pressure defense by attacking and looking for one-man advantages downcourt. The Mountaineers were credited with 12 fast-break points in the final box score. Marshall had none.
"I thought we played well in spurts," said WVU head coach Bob Huggins, now 2-0 against Marshall. "We're young. We've just got to learn to sustain things."
The lack of flow in the second half was also a detriment to Marshall's comeback efforts, as much of the final 20 minutes was spent with players on either team lining up for foul shots.
Even with the win, there is still plenty to work on for West Virginia, which returns to Big East play on Saturday afternoon when it hosts South Florida.
"We couldn't get a tempo or anything like that," said WVU forward Da'Sean Butler. "We had no control over the game like we usually try to play. We did well on defense, but we had plays where we weren't consistent on defense.
"It's just a matter of us playing consistently on both ends."
Freshman Shaquille Johnson led Marshall with 15 points and five assists. Tyler Wilkerson added 11, but came away from the game with a chipped tooth courtesy of a collision in the lane.
Butler scored 17 and grabbed seven rebounds for WVU, while Devin Ebanks scored 12 and dished out four assists before fouling out.