Marshall's Robert Goff (2) battles for a rebound with West Virginia's Aaron Brown during last season's Chesapeake Energy Capital Classic. The Mountain State rivals meet again tonight at the Charleston Civic Center.
MORGANTOWN - It's an annual battle waged by Bob Huggins as his West Virginia basketball team prepares to face Marshall.How does he convey to his players just what it's all about?On one hand, this season could be a bit more difficult than those in the recent past. Only three Mountaineers who are in the current eight-man rotation played significant minutes in the most recent game between the teams - Juwan Staten, Gary Browne and Kevin Noreen. Two others, Eron Harris and Terry Henderson, played but barely got off the bench.Then again, if Huggins needs visual aids to impress upon his players the sheer nastiness involved when the teams meet, well, he has it. All he needs to do is turn on the tape from the final 97 seconds of WVU's 69-59 win a year ago.
As the teams get set to renew their Charleston-based rivalry in tonight's 7:30 p.m. game at the Civic Center, still fresh is how that last game ended. To say that Harris and Henderson barely got off the bench is accurate, but misleading, as well. They did so when a scuffle broke out late in the game and were eventually ejected for it, two of five players so punished.If nothing else, that should serve to illustrate the point to just about everyone."It's hard sometimes, especially for young guys,'' Huggins said of trying to get them to understand the bitterness that generally exists and sometimes dominates this series. "Sometimes they have to experience it to find out.''Well, what players from both West Virginia (6-4) and Marshall (4-5) will find is likely a rough, close, foul-filled game. Recent history suggests little else.In the last six games of the series, for instance, the teams have combined to commit 286 fouls and shoot 325 free throws. There are exceptions, of course, but take last year's game, for example. Marshall made eight more 3-pointers than West Virginia and nearly as many total field goals (22-19), but lost by 10 because the Mountaineers made twice as many free throws.It's a game that can become brutal and difficult to watch, but more significant, difficult in which to play. And for the most part, the current Mountaineers don't have much of a frame of reference."How many of them understand that? Juwan and [Noreen]?'' Huggins said. "Not many of them.''Still, there's that game tape to switch on and provide clear evidence of the nastiness. Last year's mess occurred when WVU's Deniz Kilicli made a basket with 1:37 to play to make the score 61-54. Underneath him, sprawled on the floor, Staten and Marshall's Robert Goff got tangled up. When Staten got up and tried to run down the floor, Goff kicked his leg up between Staten's legs.Eventually, Goff was given a flagrant foul and ejected. Browne and Marshall's Nigel Spikes were given technical fouls. And Harris, Henderson, Aaric Murray and Jabarie Hinds were all ejected from the game for leaving the bench.Still, of WVU's top eight players - that's all the Mountaineers played in a loss to No. 20 Gonzaga Tuesday - only Browne and Noreen have played significant minutes in two games between the teams and Staten in one. Henderson started last year's game but played just nine minutes, while Harris played two minutes. That's it.And video evidence or not, it's hard to convey the animosity between the teams. Even WVU freshman Nathan Adrian, who grew up in Morgantown and has at least seen a few of the battles, probably doesn't quite understand, said Huggins.
"He's probably thinking it's like Morgantown against University,'' Huggins said. "And it's not.''Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/dphickman1