By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
In the end, as the sellout crowd of 11,512 fans walked out of the Civic Center Coliseum here, they were talking mostly about the fight that nearly was, about a battle royal in the final minute and a half that started with an intentional tripping of West Virginia University’s Juwan Staten by Marshall’s Robert Goff and ended with a West Virginia victory, 69-59.
Indeed, that was the exclamation point to a most contentious evening, one in which Deniz Kilicli took charge inside with 21 points and where the Mountaineers dominated the paint, doubling Marshall’s output there with 36 points to just 18 for the Thundering Herd.
But this, in many ways, was a victory not so much of talent, not even so much of a WVU will that was iron on this evening, but instead of some nifty coaching by Bob Huggins, who is now 713 wins into what surely will be a Hall of Fame career.
Indeed, it was the scouting report that had the Mountaineers hammering the ball inside, in part because they had a bit of an edge there with Kilicli and Aaric Murray, along with Kevin Noreen, but also because Marshall acted as though it didn’t want any part of it.
Oh, they banged and talked some trash but in the end, this was Kilicli’s assessment:
“Their bigs don’t want to guard nobody.”
And so, from the time WVU took the lead late in the first half, that was the advantage that WVU tried to capitalize on.
It was not, however, all the coaching Huggins would do on this night.
Late in the first half, everything seemed to be going WVU’s way. They had scored six straight points and had taken the lead and had just gotten a rebound when Huggins called time out.
Why then, with his team streaking?
There was a reason. He wanted to go to his 1-3-1 defense.
It was a surprise move, a shocking move, and Marshall had no idea what hit it.
“We confused them a bit,” point guard Juwan Staten said. “Until then Huggs hadn’t used it much, and when he did it was when we were behind. They weren’t expecting it.”
It was so effective that it led to three straight turnovers, two straight baskets and a third on a slam dunk at the buzzer that was waved off by the officials because it had come a little bit too late.
The second bit of coaching was pure Huggins at his best. It came again after a timeout, WVU up 52-46 with 4:57 left.
Huggins had inserted five new players into the game, one of whom was Keaton Miles. They took the ball out on the side near halfcourt/ Two passes later, Miles had sneaked in the back door and taken a nifty pass from Kevin Noreen and slammed it with such a force that the entire Civic Center seemed to shake as the crowd broke loose.
The lead had jumped to eight and the air went out of the Herd, WVU never wavering and putting it away after Goff expressed his exasperation by tripping Staten to set off the fireworks.
After that, it was a rollicking WVU student section cheering the team to the end.
At one point they chanted “Warm up the bus! Warm up the bus!” at the beaten Marshall team and at another point it was “Marshall High School, Marshall High School.”
They had reason to cheer. This was probably the best WVU has played this year, and it comes as a direct result of Huggins pushing them hard following their trip to Florida in which they lost two of three games during the Old Spice Classic.
“Huggins really put us through it,” Kilicli said. “He yelled at us. We were on that treadmill a lot. But it was good for us. We came together.”
And now they find themselves in the heart of their non-conference schedule, coming home to face an unbeaten Virginia Tech team on Saturday afternoon, then going to Duquesne before heading to Brooklyn to face John Beilein and his unbeaten, No. 3-ranked Michigan Wolverines.
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.