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December 14, 2013

WVU topples Marshall in Capital Classic, 74-64

With Juwan Staten and Brandon Watkins leading the way, the West Virginia Mountaineers ended a two-game skid Saturday night, defeating in-state rival Marshall 74-64 to score a victory in the 2013 Capital Classic in Charleston.

Being the Charleston Civic Center, Saturday night's game bore a typical resemblance to past Capital Classics in the early stretch - lack of offensive output. The Mountaineers struggled to find the bottom of the net early, going 0-3 and a turnover on the team's first four possessions.

Meanwhile, the Herd appeared to adjust quickly to the stiff Civic Center rims, going out on a quick 6-0 run to open up the contest, forcing Bob Huggins to call a West Virginia timeout to regroup.

The quick pause seemed to settle the Mountaineers at the perfect time, with Gary Browne ending the opening drought with a straightaway three pointer to put West Virginia on the board. Still, Marshall maintained an early 6-4 advantage heading into the first media timeout.

Following the media break, West Virginia again struggled to get into an on-court rhythm. After turning up the defensive pressure prior to the timeout, the Herd found a way to attack the Mountaineer's tough zone defense, giving up two quick layups and a Shawn Smith three to give Marshall a 13-6 advantage.

But again, a big three pointer for the Mountaineers helped to end the cold streak. Remi Dibo would chase down an off-target three by Juwan Staten before finding Terry Henderson in the corner for the open jumper. The basket cut into West Virginia's deficit, trailing 14-11 entering the second media break.

After a slow offensive start, both teams would quickly exchange offensive midway through the first half. For six-consecutive possessions, both teams would find offensive success, led by a quick dribble-drive layup and a three-point play by Staten.

The scoring streak cut the Marshall lead to two, briefly, before a TyQuane Goard jumper pushed the Herd back up by four with nine minutes remaining in the half.

Goard continued to be a thorn in the side of West Virginia for much of the first half, but it would a follow-up dunk by the 6'7 sophomore that would truly rile the Marshall faithful in Charleston.

A layup from Browne would quiet the Herd fans in attendance briefly, but a quick three pointer by Marshall's Kareem Canty would ignite them once again, pushing the Marshall lead to six - 28-22 - with five minutes remaining in the half.

But West Virginia would not lie down again the in-state foe. After starting the game slow, and sitting on the bench briefly after being shaken up fighting for a loose ball, Eron Harris would make his mark on the contest, connecting with his first three pointer of the game.

Coupled with a Brandon Watkins layup on the previous possession, the Mountaineers cut the Herd's lead to a single point entering the final media timeout of the half, trailing 30-29.

But the "live by the three, die by the three" strategy Marshall employed in the first half continued to pay dividends. Exiting the timeout, Herd forward Smith connected with his second trifecta of the night, pushing the Marshall lead back to four as the half ticked away.

Harris would tack on a pair of points from the free throw line for the Mountaineers, but Marshall would take a 33-31 advantage into halftime after leading for the entire duration of the half.

Once the second half got underway, the Mountaineers would finally break even with the Herd for the first time in the night. A pair of free throws from Henderson and Devin Williams tied the ballgame in two separate occasions.

However, West Virginia would still struggle to take its first lead of the contest against a high octane Marshall attack. For the Herd, a 6-0 run to open the half, sparked by a trio of layups from Chris Harris, quickly pushed the lead to four.

But Marshall could not manage to pull away from its rival in the early going of the second half. A three pointer from Browne halted the Herd's mini-run, leaving the Mountaineers down 39-38 with 16 minutes remaining in the contest.

Marshall would continue to control both the pace of the contest and the scoreboard, answering every blow the Mountaineers threw its way. The offensive output slowed down entering the second media timeout, but the Herd managed to maintain a 45-41 advantage.

Following the timeout, both teams pushed the pace offensively, again answering each other's possessions almost shot for shot. A layup by Watkins would end an over three minute scoring drought for the Mountaineers, but the Herd would follow it up with an alley oop slam from Goard to put Marshall on top by three.

A three pointer from Marshall's Tamron Manning allowed the Herd to push its advantage back to six, but a strong showing from Watkins kept the Mountaineers in the hunt. The true freshman, who has struggled at times this season adjusting to the college game, answered Manning's three with a one-handed layup in the paint, giving him eight points on the night and cutting the Marshall lead to four.

Thanks in part to the boost from Watkins, West Virginia again clawed its way to within one possession of the Herd, doing so from the charity stripe. Free throws by Henderson, Staten, and Devin Williams put the Mountaineers to within one of the Herd, trailing 54-53 entering the under eight media timeout.

Although they closed the matchup to within a point, the Herd managed to maintain an advantage thanks to sloppy play from the Mountaineers. Despite only shooting 8-20 from the free throw line with five minutes remaining in the contest, the Herd took advantage of defensive mismatches in the paint to maintain a 62-58 lead.

For West Virginia, however, it was Watkins that kept them in the matchup. The freshman's offensive production kept the Mountaineers within striking distance as time ticked away in the contest.

After toying with an advantage throughout the game ,West Virginia would finally taste the lead with 3:41 seconds remaining thanks to a circus and-1 from Staten. The junior guard's basket and free throw riled up the old gold and blue faithful in the Charleston Civic Center as the Mountaineers took a 63-62 lead.

From here the Mountaineers would go on the defensive for the first time of the night. A turnover by Marshall's Thomas on the ensuing possession allowed the Mountaineers to extend the advantage to three points with a second chance layup by Dibo.

A pair of technical fouls for both teams slowed the contest briefly, but once order was restored the Mountaineers managed to take full control of the contest. A driving layup by Staten and long jumper from Browne pushed West Virginia ahead by seven points - 70-63 - with 1:23 remaining in the contest.

Marshall would be forced to send West Virginia players to the free throw line in a last-ditch effort to squeeze by with a win. The Mountaineers managed to wait out the onslaught, ending with a Watkins block and Harris slam dunk to cap off the comeback victory.

Final: West Virginia 74, Marshall 64.

The Mountaineers were led in scoring by Juwan Staten and Terry Henderson, who scored 19 and 13 points, respectively. Also freshman Brandon Watkins had a career day, sparking West Virginia in the second half and contributing 12 points and 11 rebounds to the win.

West Virginia will take the week off from play as players take their final exams. The Mountaineers return to action next Sunday, December 22, as they take on the Purdue Boilermakers in Morgantown.

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