By Cam Huffman
In the closing minutes of West Virginia’s 69-59 win over Marshall Wednesday night in the Capital Classic, the WVU student section chanted, “not our rivals,” as an attempted jab at the students across the floor in green.
Mountaineer head coach Bob Huggins backed up that sentiment in his postgame press conference, saying the game is not a rivalry like West Virginia-Pitt or Cincinnati-Xavier, which he’s experienced before — mostly because the two schools are a little further apart and some fans root for the other team the rest of the year when the two teams aren’t playing.
The action on the floor, and the words in the locker room, though, proved otherwise.
Unlike the Friends of Coal Bowl football game, where politicians and television executives have tried to force a rivalry, there is some true passion in the Marshall-WVU basketball game.
If the on-court scrum with less than 2 minutes to play — one that led to three technical fouls and four ejections, which, by the way, won’t rule the WVU players out for Saturday’s meeting with Virginia Tech, according to Huggins — didn’t tell that story, then the postgame comments should have.
When asked about the near-brawl that broke out in the late minutes, WVU forward Deniz Kilicli, who led the Mountaineers with 21 points, didn’t hold back.
“This is the reason why we can’t do this,” he said, after first stating that he didn’t want to touch the subject. “We are West Virginia, and we are the state’s team. We prove it over and over again. We are the ones playing big time schools; we have high recruits. We can’t get into all that pushing and shoving and talking trash.
“Four players got ejected from our bench, but they didn’t do anything,” he continued. “They just came off the bench. As soon as you cross the line, you’re out. Some of them really didn’t know. But we shouldn’t get into that.”
The fireworks, though, didn’t exactly come as a surprise to the WVU big-man, who has experienced the so-called non-rivalry before.
“It’s every Capital Classic,” he said. “This happens all the time. (Marshall’s) talking all the time. I like it. I just laugh at them.
“We always talk about this. Those are the guys that want to be in our spot. This is one of the biggest games they play, and they play really hard. But they lost. It’s hard when you’re that pumped up and you lose. But it’s OK. We won the game, and that’s all that matters. Marshall’s seniors don’t have a chance again, and they can do whatever they want to do now. We came together and said, ‘We’re not losing this game.’ They tried everything. They tried to play hard, they tried to shoot the ball well and couldn’t. They tried to talk trash, and that didn’t work, either.”
If those are words directed at a normal opponent, I’d hate to hear what Kilicli and others would have to say about a rival.