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Staten saves day for Mountaineers

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia and Marshall played another of their less-than-classic classics Saturday night at the Civic Center, one of those foul- and turnover-filled affairs that have come to mark the series.

And as it usually does, the result ultimately favored the Mountaineers.

That was largely due to Juwan Staten, who somehow managed to settle down West Virginia after a first half that left Bob Huggins almost speechless and a first 10 minutes of the second half that weren't much better.

It was Staten's three-point play that gave WVU its first lead of the game with inside of four minutes to play, and the Mountaineers never trailed again in winning 74-64. He also had a free throw and a crucial driving layup that really sent the Mountaineers on their way about 60 seconds later.

But Staten provided far more than scoring down the stretch. He was the rudder that finally, almost mercifully straightened out an off-course West Virginia ship.

"We kept the ball in Juwan Staten's hands, which I thought was a great coaching move,'' Huggins said when asked the difference between the first 30 minutes, when his team could do nothing right, to the final 10, when almost nothing went wrong. "Nobody else could hold onto it.''

Indeed, while West Virginia victories over Marshall are almost ordained - this was the third straight WVU win, the seventh in the last eight and the 14th in 18 - this one seemed almost certainly headed the other way most of the night. Indeed, much of that was due to Marshall in general and point guard Kareem Canty (16 points, nine assists) in particular, but West Virginia's first half was also one that Huggins described thusly:

"We couldn't have played worse,'' he said. "It's not conceivable that we could play any worse."

Indeed, consider that just last Tuesday, West Virginia played 40 minutes against No. 20 Gonzaga and turned the ball over five times. The Mountaineers not only exceeded that total in the first six minutes Saturday, they had 11 at halftime and committed No. 16 with about 12 minutes to play and Marshall about to go up by six, 47-41.

But a funny thing happened on the way to 20 or more turnovers. The Mountaineers didn't commit another one.

West Virginia settled down. Staten thought it was just a product of so many young players getting used to the nature of the game with Marshall. But it was more than that. It was Staten taking control.

"We got in a bind. We weren't really making shots and we weren't handling the ball very well,'' Staten said. "So I said, 'Give it to me.'"

Huggins was happy to do just that.

Over those final 12 minutes, the Mountaineers inched closer but never got over the hump. But they weren't falling behind, either. And in the final five minutes, with Marshall leading 62-58, West Virginia just took control. West Virginia outscored Marshall 16-2 the rest of the way, giving the ball to Staten and letting him create offense and turning to a half-court trapping defense that limited the Herd to just two free throws.

Of course, it also helped that West Virginia got a boost from an entirely unexpected source. Freshman forward Brandon Watkins, who didn't even play Tuesday against Gonzaga, had 12 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks, giving the Mountaineers an inside presence.

"I saw a lot of things out of Brandon today that I hadn't seen all year,'' Staten said.

When all was said and done, Staten would finish with 19 points for West Virginia (7-4), while Terry Henderson added 13, Gary Browne and Watkins 12 apiece and Eron Harris 11.

West Virginia overcame those 16 turnovers and 20 fouls, in large part because they committed none down the stretch, but also because they shot 50 percent for the game.

Canty led Marshall (4-6) with those 16 points and nine assists, while TyQuane Gourd and Chris Thomas had 11 points each. The Herd committed 25 fouls and was horrid once again in shooting free throws, making just 10 of 24 to WVU's 20 of 28.

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com or follow him at twitter.com/dphickman1


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