The telltale signs of a top-notch rivalry come not only when both teams involved are at similar levels, but also when one team is considerably better than the other.
Underdogs regularly causing problems for favorites is that true throw-out-the-record-book quality that takes a series to the next level. While perhaps not as noted nationally as some other annual games, the yearly duel between West Virginia and Marshall in the past has often fallen into that category-the Mountaineers traditionally have had the better program, yet the Thundering Herd frequently have been nipping at their heels, giving the state school all it can handle.
That was precisely the case Thursday night-for about 25 minutes. Marshall-3-6 entering the game-trailed by just three at halftime and even held a brief lead early in the second half, but nationally ranked WVU wore down the Herd as time wound down, eventually finishing with a convincing 86-68 win in the game played in Charleston, W.Va., and known as the Capital Classic.
The Mountaineers were at their frenzied Press Virginia best, forcing 18 turnovers but more importantly outrebounding Marshall 48-32. In particular, West Virginia hammered the offensive glass for 22 of its rebounds, leading to 25 second-chance points. On back-to-back possessions early in the second half, WVU grabbed three offensive boards alone, with Devin Williams eventually converting both times, and the Thundering Herd seemed to never recover. The Mountaineers also received contributions from across the board again, with eight different players scoring at least seven points and no one more than Jevon Carter’s 15.
It took time for West Virginia-now 9-1 on the season-to assert that dominance, though. Marshall led by six early in the game, and the first half had five ties and seven lead changes. The Thundering Herd stayed in the game early with six first-half three-pointers, but then went 0-for-13 behind the arc in the second half.
West Virginia now holds a 33-11 lead in the all-time series between the two schools, and the margin of victory was the largest since WVU scored a 74-56 win in Dec. 1989. Even with Thursday’s result, the series has been marked by close games-16 of the last 22 games have been decided by 10 points or less, and 12 have been decided by six points or less. Considering Marshall has not been to the NCAA Tournament since 1987-nearly 30 years ago-while West Virginia has been there 12 times in that period, including eight times since 2005, it’s a record of consistently good games that belies the bottom line in the series history.
- SMU played and won for the second straight night. One night after hammering Nicholls State, its game against Hampton was closer-for a half. The Mustangs’ slim 43-41 halftime lead hemorrhaged into a 105-72 win, with Jordan Tolbert leading the way with 20 points and 19 rebounds. This was the final game for SMU before the return of coach Larry Brown from his NCAA-mandated suspension.
- USC shredded Cal Poly for 57.1% shooting and 12 three-pointers in a 101-82 win. Kalin Reinhardt drained seven triples on his way to 29 points, and six scored in double figures.
- We mentioned Middle Tennessee State in a notebook column a couple weeks ago, and the Blue Raiders continue to have a very nice non-conference run. The Blue Raiders drilled Belmont 83-62. Perrin Buford can be a key to MTSU’s season, and he had 20 points in the surprisingly easy win.
- The game of the night took place in Milwaukee, where South Dakota outlasted Wisconsin-Milwaukee 92-91 in double overtime. Wisconsin native Tre Burnette scored the go-ahead basket for the Coyotes with 1.2 seconds left in the second OT and then blocked a final UWM shot attempt at the buzzer. Counting a win over Minnesota 12 days earlier, that’s two 2-OT wins for USD in its last four games.
- Evansville senior guard D.J. Balentine went over 2,000 points for his career, the fourth player in school history to hit that mark. Balentine’s 26 helped the Purple Aces get to 9-2 with an 84-70 win over Norfolk State.
- Tennessee State continues to be one of the most pleasant surprises in the nation. The Tigers-again, 5-26 last year-are now 8-2 after an 89-86 squeeze past Lipcsomb.
- Pacific announced on Thursday that it has self-imposed a number of penalties while the NCAA continues its investigation into the program. The most notable penalty is a postseason ban for this year, which means the Tigers will not compete in the West Coast Conference tournament, reducing that event to nine teams this year. Pacific also will reduce the number of basketball scholarships by a total of six for a period of three years, plus limiting recruiting efforts.
Today’s menu: The busiest Friday we will have now until March
- A primo rivalry game-or at least it should be-as Mississippi is at Memphis (8 p.m. EST, ESPNews). One of the great stats out there right now: Ole Miss is 10-4 in true road games since last year. This is a series that needs to be played more-this is the two teams’ first meeting since the 2010 NIT and first in the regular season since…2006? Seriously.
- Other than that, the closest thing to a national TV game is Incarnate Word playing at St. John’s (7 p.m., FS1). The Cardinals famously won at Nebraska last year but aren’t the same this year without Denzel Livingston, and most recently lost to NAIA Division I Our Lady of the Lake in the battle for Catholic supremacy in San Antonio. After that win over Syracuse, it’s going to be fun watching the Red Storm continue to get better this year.
- Among other offerings, Coastal Carolina under Cliff Ellis seemingly always knocks off one big name a year, so Wake Forest better be on the lookout.
- South Carolina is still undefeated, and quietly so (the Gamecocks have played once in the last 13 days) but that will be tested when facing rival Clemson.
- Central Michigan now has Chris Fowler back, making their game at BYU considerably more noteworthy than when the Chippewas were struggling without him. First to 15 three-pointers in this game wins.
- In-state foes Southern and Louisiana Tech face off a much better game than most will know.
- Out west, Long Beach State continues its annual brutal barnstorming schedule with a trip to Oregon.
Enjoy your Friday, have a great weekend and best of luck finishing that Christmas shopping.