There were several candidates for outstanding player of the game in West Virginia's 68-60 win over Marshall, but in the end it was the resurgence of a senior that tipped the scales in his favor.
Forward Da'Sean Butler, after scoring just four points in nine minutes of a foul-plagued first half, finished with 16 points and six rebounds in the Mountaineers' win over the Herd. Following a ticky-tack second foul that sent him to the bench for much of the opening 20 minutes, Butler, opened the second half with two driving hoops that helped push West Virginia's lead out to seven points. Down the stretch, he hit four of six free throw attempts and also played solid defense as the Mountaineers mixed man-to-man, 1-3-1 and the point-drop zone to help contain Marshall's penetrating guards.
In making six of his 11 tries from the field, Butler appeared much more confident in his shot than he has in previous games. He had a couple of in-and-out misses, and hit a pair of the medium range jumpers that are such a big part of his game, and something that West Virginia must have as it continues to face steady diet of zone defenses.
He scored just five points, but high-energy forward john Flowers had a huge impact on the game. The rangy Flowers had four monster blocked shots, including three on Marshall prodigy Hassan Whiteside (who himself leads the nation in blocked shots) to help shut down some close-in chances for the Herd. Although Flowers wasn't sure if a shot blocker getting his own tries rejected had any mental effect ("I wasn't looking at him afterward," he noted), it was clear that the seven-foot freshman isn't used to getting rejected at the rim.
Flowers said he had seven blocks in a game once during his career, but couldn't recall having done so against a player so tall. The blocks turned almost sure Marshall baskets into possessions for WVU, and played a huge part in West Virginia holding on to the lead down the stretch.
West Virginia's out of bounds plays under its own basket continue to yield great shots for the Mountaineers, and have a huge effect on the outcome of games. While foes are often reduced to lobbing the ball in deep and resetting its offense, WVU continually gets good shots immediately from its in-bounds sets. In particular, Butler and Devin Ebanks have gotten open shots in the six- to ten-foot range, and have converted a good percentage of them.
Against the Herd, however, the biggest shot came courtesy of Kevin Jones, who took an inbounds pass and nailed a huge jumper with 58 seconds to go to put West Virginia up by five points.
"My teammates and coach Huggins believed in me to take that shot, and it felt great when it went down," Jones said.
As for Huggins, the wily coach isn't about to give up any secrets on how he's able to design sets to get those open looks.
"I've been coaching this game for a long time, man," he said with the only hint of humor after the contest.
Marshall's guard penetration early in the game was countered by WVU's switch to the point drop zone and a bit of 1-3-1, with that, in turn allowing the Herd a bit more room to find shooting space from long range. After a first half in which they hit just two of seven three-pointers, MU made 6-14 in the second half to stay in the contest. What didn't change, however, was WVU's dominance on the boards. The Mountaineers collected 17 more rebounds than the Herd, and held a ten-board advantage on the offensive end. That translated into a 12-5 edge in second chance points for the black-clad Mountaineers.