Perhaps it's time to drop "Classic" from the name of the annual intrastate basketball game between West Virginia and Marshall.Sure, these teams rarely produce a contest that isn't riddled with foul calls and foul - as in awful - shooting. But Saturday's clash at the Charleston Civic Center - the 42nd meeting between the Mountain State's two Division I hoops programs - isn't one you'll find in ESPN's vintage video vault.West Virginia defeated Marshall, 74-64, for its third consecutive win in the series. It is the first time since the schools' first three meetings - in 1929, '30 and '31 - that a team won three consecutive games in the series by double figures.That isn't a tidbit that'll go on Tom Herrion's resume, nor will his team's abhorrent free-throw shooting inside the 12,337-seat Civic Center. The Herd made 10 of 24 free throws Saturday night, a 41.7 percent clip that would be a commendable rate for contested 3s, not uncontested shots 13 feet, 9 inches from the center of the hoop.The Herd is 48 for 87 (55.2 percent) from the foul line in Herrion's four Classics. Marshall has attempted as many free throws as WVU has made in the last four meetings.Herrion's Herd isn't going to make every foul shot, but in its past three losses to WVU, the players have combined to miss 36. The total point differential of those games: 36 points."Beat ourselves," Herrion said. "Lost points at the foul line ... again."OK, so it is no secret that the Civic Center sight lines are hard on shooters, but it must be a challenge for the ball handlers, too. In the four Bob Huggins vs. Tom Herrion contests, WVU has a 37-to-52 assist-to-turnover ratio and Marshall has 45 assists against 54 turnovers. Both teams had more turnovers than assists Saturday night.
The play couldn't have been helped by there not being a single senior in either starting lineup. In fact, of the 10 players who logged minutes for the Herd in last season's Capital Classic, only one returned for this year's game. DeVince Boykins played one of the 200 possible minutes for MU players last season. He logged seven uneventful minutes Saturday.How about off the court? The attendance - 11,038 turned out for the nightcap - also declined for the third consecutive year. The crowd is the smallest since 1999 and the fourth-worst turnout since the event became a Charleston staple. That could be attributed to the participants - WVU is 20-23 overall since the beginning of last season, while Marshall is 17-25 over the same span.The continued dip in attendance could also be related to the third format change in as many years: It went from a January weekday to December weekday last season, and then to a December weekend this year.It is, however, the largest crowd either team has played in front of this season - and nearly 5,000 more than WVU has drawn for six home games so far - but that didn't stop Huggins from opining about the so-called rivalry after Saturday's game.
No, the coaches didn't have classic moments in front of the media, either.Huggins, who collected his 730th career victory and passed Norm Stewart and Jerry Tarkanian on the all-time wins list, compared the WVU-Marshall game with in-state rivalries at previous coach stops Kansas State and Cincinnati."Go have Xavier-Cincinnati; go have Kansas-Kansas State," Huggins said when asked about the Capital Classic's importance. "It's proximity. I really believe at the end of the day it's proximity.
"You've got two campuses in Cincinnati about five miles apart. Kansas-Kansas State is an hour. We're three-and-a-half hours away from Huntington. It's not the same."You don't get all the hoopla that you do in those other games."Well, that certainly lets all the air out of the Reebok Pumps, doesn't it?Herrion twice said it was a "crying shame" his team couldn't hold on after not trailing for the first 36 minutes and 19 seconds of the game.He could've labeled any of the aforementioned - the game play, the shooting, the crowd or the lack of importance to the participants - with the same two words.At least there's still the crowd-pleasing cheerleader cupie contest.
Oh, wait.Contact sports editor Chuck McGill at firstname.lastname@example.org
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