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January 19, 2012

Mountaineers dominate second half in 78-62 win over Marshall

CHARLESTON — The exclamation mark may have been the best part of West Virginia University’s surprisingly one-sided 78-62 victory over in-state rival Marshall in the Capital Classic on Wednesday that lived up to its name only in the way the Mountaineers completely dominated the second half.

The exclamation mark was provided by the irrepressible Truck Bryant, the senior guard out of the land of Jackie Robinson, in the form of his 21st and 22nd points that came on a driving layup. To say it was indescribable would not to be overstating it, for it was a move that would have challenged Mary Lou Retton to repeat at her gold medal best.

He went under the basket, contorted his body, flipped the ball back at the backboard with reverse English (or was it simply Brooklynese?), the ball defying the laws of gravity and inertia and going through the basket.

Or something like that

“It felt good,” Bryant would admit in the bowels of the Civic Center later. “I just wanted to go out in style.”

The basket may have counted two points in the game but it was worth a thousand style points in this game that was as difficult to explain as Bryant’s shot.

It began, first of all, with WVU taking on Marshall with one hand figuratively tied behind its back, facing the nation’s third-best rebounding team and the first in rebounding margin and offensive rebounding, without its center, Deniz Kilicli.

He sprained his ankle two days earlier and that meant Kevin Noreen had to fill in and start for the first time.

Think the Mountaineers missed Kilicli?

Not a bit. They outrebounded the Herd, 37-27, and grabbed off more offensive rebounds, 11-9, with most of Marshall’s nine coming after the outcome had been settled.

And they did it with Kevin Jones, second nationally in offensive rebounds, not snaring a one. Of course, Jones did still manage to be the high scorer in the game with 25 points and tie Bryant for the rebounding lead with 7.

Yes, Bryant.

One may wonder how WVU then could possibly beat Marshall on the boards.

“They do the things you emphasize,” coach Bob Huggins said.

And, to a man, the Mountaineers admitted that Huggins had, eh, emphasized rebounding.

“It’s all we heard all week,” said Noreen. “Coach said if we beat them on the boards we will win.”

With Kilicli out, the guards had to do their thing and, as noted, Bryant did with seven but Gary Browne had five, as did Jabarie Hinds, so they combined for 17 rebounds.

The two heroes, however, as expected, were the two seniors in Jones and Bryant. It seemed certain, for example, that WVU was going to go into the locker room down 3 points, but Marshall cooperated by throwing the ball out of bounds while inbounding it under its own basket.

The Mountaineers ran a play right out of Dana Holgorsen’s offensive playbook with Bryant catching an inbounds pass and going up and pumping in a tying 3, leaping down the court, saluting as he went.

Jones had patiently let the game come to him in the first half, not taking his first shot, which was also was his first basket, at 10:03.

“I have gotten mature enough to let the game come to me,” he said. “I know now where my shots should come from, and I don’t take them until I have them.”

He played without waste in this one, hitting 8 of 12 field goals, and if Bryant was only 7 for 20 for the game, you have to remember he missed his first five shots and it hardly mattered.

In fact, not much mattered where Bryant was concerned. He missed six shots in the second half, but  of the other 20 shots taken by the Mountaineers 16 went in … 80 percent.

Overall, WVU shot 61.5 percent in the second half, mostly because Marshall seemed lost.

“The one thing we knew about Marshall was that they don’t guard,” Bryant said. “They stand in the paint. Because of that KJ had a lot of good shots.”

As the game wore on and the clock clicked down, it became more and more apparent that WVU would win, so much so that Bryant was wearing that wide smile of his and having fun with the Marshall crowd, putting an index finger up to his mouth to tell them to “shush.”

“A friend of mine who takes pictures of the games asked me if I’d do that,” he said. “I had the chance, so I did.”

And so it went, WVU avenging last year’s loss to Marshall.

“There was a lot of emotion from last year,” Jones said. “It never went away. It’s gone now.”

“We played them four times and we won three of them,” Bryant added. “At the end of the day, we got the last word.”

Email Bob Hertzel at Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.

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