It’s not how many minutes a team leads, it’s who’s in front when the final horn sounds.
West Virginia is glad the rules are written that way.
After trailing for 36 minutes Saturday night at the Charleston Civic Center, the Mountaineers (7-4) took their first lead on a Juwan Staten 3-point play with 3:41 left on the clock and then pulled away for a 74-64 win over Marshall (4-6) in a Capital Classic that saw neither team lead by double digits until WVU took the 10-point advantage with less than a minute to go.
By their own admission, the Mountaineers didn’t play well. But they played well enough to win, thanks largely to the play of Staten, their junior point guard. Locked in a battle with Marshall’s Kareem Canty, Staten contributed 19 points, six rebounds and four assists, getting to the rim almost any time he wanted and willing the Mountaineers to what was an important victory after dropping three of their last four going into the annual rivalry game.
“It’s always going to be a dog fight in this game,” said Staten. “But at the end, we executed more. We did the things we needed to do to win the game.”
His efforts were critical with Eron Harris struggling. The WVU sophomore, who leads the Mountaineers in scoring, was just 1 for 6 from 3-point range and finished with a quiet 11 points.
Terry Henderson was the other WVU starter in double figures, scoring 11 points, and Gary Browne was efficient, scoring 12 points and dishing out a pair of assists.
Perhaps the biggest difference in the game — which was sloppy on both ends and really didn’t develop any flow until the final minutes — was the performance of Brandon Watkins. The freshman forward came off the bench for his best game of the year, scoring 12 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. The nephew of former Greenbrier East and WVU standout Warren Baker, who served as the television color commentator for the game, was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.
“I knew once my name was called, I had to give it my all,” said Watkins, who didn’t play a single minute in WVU’s loss to No. 20 Gonzaga on Tuesday. “I just tried to be active on the boards and play great defense. The offense will come. We have great guards, and they’re going to dish it off. I just have to be ready.
“We kept fighting. We really wanted to win, because we knew if we lost it was going to hurt our season.”
WVU’s late surge was also a result of a relentless half-court trap, which Huggins waited patiently to employ at the right time. The strategy helped WVU outscore the Herd 14-2 over the final four minutes. Up 54-48 with 9 minutes left, Marshall scored just 10 points the rest of the way, going almost five minutes without a field goal.
“We put the ball in Juwan Staten’s hands,” said Huggins of the offensive strategy down the stretch. “He did a great job. He scored himself and got other people open. We attacked more.
“I didn’t want to go to the trap until the under 4 (minute timeout), because our guys play a lot of minutes. I wanted to make sure they had enough juice to finish the game.”
For Marshall, the story was what could have been. Trying to beat the Mountaineers for just the second time in the last eight meetings, Marshall led by as many as seven in the opening half and answered every WVU run until the last one.
The Herd made just 10 of 24 free throws and was 4 of 15 from 3-point range.
“We contributed mightily to their win,” said Marshall coach Tom Herrion. “We only have ourselves to blame. We beat ourselves tonight.”
Canty was the spark plug for MU, scoring 16 points and dishing out a game-best nine assists. The freshman went toe-to-toe with WVU’s Staten for most of the game.
Sophomore guard Chris Thomas scored 11 for Marshall, while TyQuane Goard, a sophomore forward, added 11 more to go along with seven rebounds, before fouling out in the closing minutes.
WVU will have a week off before hosting Purdue next Sunday. Marshall will host Arkansas State next Saturday.
— E-mail: chuffman@
register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.
WEST VIRGINIA (7-4)
Staten 6-14 7-10 19, Williams 0-2 4-6 4, Harris 3-9 4-6 11, Henderson 4-8 4-4 13, Noreen 0-1 0-0 0, Dibo 1-4 1-2 3, Adrian 0-0 0-0 0, Browne 5-5 0-0 12, Watkins 6-7 0-0 12. Totals 25-50 20-28 74.
Canty 6-13 3-3 16, Thomas 4-12 3-5 11, Sane 3-5 1-5 7, Boykins 0-0 0-0 0, Goard 5-8 1-2 11, Smith 2-11 1-3 7, Taylor 3-5 1-4 7, Manning 2-6 0-2 5, Mbao 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-60 10-24 64.
Halftime—Marshall 33-31. 3-Point Goals—West Virginia 4-15 (Browne 2-2, Henderson 1-4, Harris 1-6, Staten 0-1, Dibo 0-2), Marshall 4-15 (Smith 2-4, Manning 1-2, Canty 1-6, Taylor 0-1, Thomas 0-2). Fouled Out—Goard, Taylor. Rebounds—West Virginia 38 (Watkins 11), Marshall 35 (Goard, Sane 7). Assists—West Virginia 10 (Staten 4), Marshall 14 (Canty 9). Total Fouls—West Virginia 20, Marshall 25. Technical—Taylor. A—11,038.