CLEVELAND – What a great day to be a basketball fan from West Virginia.
It was “Almost Heavenly.”
First, No. 22-ranked West Virginia University took on No. 2 Ohio State in the opening game of the inaugural Cleveland Classic here Sunday in the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
Well, guess what.
The Mountaineers made it a miserable 24 hours for Ohio State fans, who were still crying over a 29-23 loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinals Saturday, by upsetting the Buckeyes, 67-59, in front of 16,780 highly enthusiastic fans.
What an emotional loss for the Buckeyes.
But what an emotional victory for the Mountaineers.
Better still, what an emotional day for Mountain State hoops.
“Oh, it was great,” said Marshall coach Danny D’Antoni, who led his Thundering Herd to an imposing 83-61 victory over Duquesne in the second half of the double-header.
“You walked in and half this place was — now, this is a challenge to Marshall people — half this place was full of ‘West By God-ers.’ And they were all screaming and yelling. We’ve got to step up and get our fan base excited. We’ll have to pull half of that state over to us.
“I’m happy for West Virginia. I might get crucified back home a little bit for this one, but I’m not a West Virginia hater — until they play Marshall.
“I saw Huggs [veteran WVU coach Bob Huggins] in the hallway and congratulated him. He was very friendly. I wish him the best. I hope we meet in the NCAA Tournament again.”
That obviously would be awesome.
But in the meantime the atmosphere in the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse was practically dripping with tourney ambience.
Just ask WVU true freshman point guard Deuce McBride.
The 6-foot-2 Cincinnati native actually has won a state championship in the Buckeye State already, leading Moeller High School to a title.
“Yeah, it did feel like that,” he said. “It’s one of the biggest games in Ohio and I knew if we got this win our fan base was going to go crazy. Ohio State has a very powerful fan base and I wanted our fans to have a little edge on them.”
McBride made sure of that by scoring a game-high 21 points on 6-for-12 shooting including three of four from 3-point range and six of eight from the foul line.
“Ah, it was great,” he said. “Nothing like it. I had family in the crowd, friends in the crowd. It felt like a big tournament game. That’s what everybody was saying. And we played like we wanted to win the tournament. So, I’m proud of our guys and the way we stepped up.”
McBride took charge on a couple of occasions in both the first and second half, playing 25 minutes despite not starting.
“It was just the way the game played out,” said McBride. “Opportunities ... they came and I took advantage of it.”
Meanwhile, Marshall got strong games from Jarrod West with 22 points and six assists, including four 3-pointers, and Darius George off the bench. The 6-7 George finished with a career-high 19 points on 8-for-10 shooting.
“It was a great experience,” said D’Antoni. “They were playing in an NBA arena — one of the top seven or eight arenas in the NBA. It has a good ring to it. A really good feel.”
It felt … well, “Almost Heavenly.”