WVU's Gary Browne launches a jump shot over Marshall's Dago Pena.
With 1:17 left in the latest Capital Classic basketball game, West Virginia's Truck Bryant smiled and moved toward Marshall's Damier Pitts during a free throw attempt.
The game had been decided in WVU's favor. But Pitts returned the smile and patted Bryant on the back.
The two had gone back and forth in these Classic since they were freshmen. Last season, Pitts got his. On Wednesday, Bryant got his.
"I told him, 'Good game,' " Bryant said. "Told him I love him and wish the best for him."
Mountaineer coach Bob Huggins got some of the best from Kevin Jones, who had 25 points, and a crucial 22 from Bryant, in WVU's 78-62 victory over the Thundering Herd. In a game in which the Mountaineers were favored by four points, the victors bucked the recent trend in the series. Before last night, 11 of the last 13 games had been decided by single digits, including two overtime contests.
Wednesday's game seemed headed that way as well. At 3:12 in the first half, Marshall was raising Cain. Or, rather, DeAndre Kane was raising Marshall. The 6-foot-4 sophomore from Pittsburgh seemed to be stealing the show. He willed the Thundering Herd to a 7-point lead with a pair of slam dunks, a lay-in and a drive-by of Bryant.
After one of the dunks, in which MU went up 21-20, Kane glared at Bryant.
"We knew [Kane] would come in talking," Bryant said. "But he's been backing it up."
At the halftime break, the game was tied at 30. Mistakes? Both teams made a few. But the contest seemed destined to be another nail-biter.
Until West Virginia rose to the challenge. And Marshall wilted like a rose.
In the second half, Kane cooled, hitting 3-of-8 after scoring 12 in the first half.
He, however, wasn't alone. MU shot 40 percent in the second half after shooting 52 percent in the first. WVU, meanwhile, improved from 42.9 percent to 61.5 to finish at 51.9. (Another Huggins halftime, um, speech?)
The referees, as many requested, allowed the teams to play, tooting the whistled for a combined 32 fouls. That helped WVU. But the Mountaineers played harder, tougher and with more desire. They deserved what is a very good victory - especially missing center Deniz Kilicli, who turned an ankle in practice Monday.
Many times with four freshmen on the floor, WVU outmaneuvered Marshall, finishing with a very impressive 37-27 rebounding advantage. MU's Dennis Tinnon, one of the nation's top 10 rebounders, didn't get his first offensive rebound until the 5-minute mark.
How good of a win was this for West Virginia? Well, the Thundering Herd is now in first place - for the first time ever - in Conference USA.
But back to Bryant and Pitts. To the Mountaineer of those two, the victory was important. Very.
"For me, this was for bragging rights," said the WVU guard. "I can say the last time I played [Marshall], I won."
He also made some jabs, like saying, "one thing we knew is they don't guard in the post."
Something we witnessed on Wednesday, however, was the rising star for future Classics. Bryant and Pitts are out. Jabarie Hinds is in.
And what a debut the Mountaineer guard made here.
After Marshall made that first-half blitz, it was Hinds who made a head-turning move in the lane to tie the game at 27.
In the second half, he was on a fast break when, with Bryant on the wing, he made an ankle-breaking fake before taking a lay-in, giving WVU a 42-37 lead. Then he followed with a jumper. He then added, to a delighted Jones, a teardrop bucket.
"Every time we give him the ball, he gets better and better and better," Huggins said.
Hinds finished with 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting with five rebounds, three assists and a pair of assists. And if one doesn't think the Classic is in good hands for the future, at 3:06 left in the game, with the mystery gone, Hinds was still playing hard, diving to the floor for a steal. One didn't see that from Marshall.
"He's a good kid," Huggins said. "He's cut out of the same cloth as K.J."
"This game was tight," Hinds said. "It had a good atmosphere. I had fun out there."
"We played defense and I took what they gave me," Hinds said. "It worked."
Hinds spoke of his first eye-popping move.
"I was pushing up the court," he said, "and slowed up. I got the defender in the air and made a little move. We just kept attacking."
"[Hinds] showed up today," Bryant said. "He played a heck of a game. Showed some moves today."
WVU, meanwhile, took another move forward. Impressively, with Kilicli on the sideline in gray sweats, it defeated an improved rival. The Mountaineers racked up more RPI points.
And the season is looking more and more rosy.
Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org
or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.