By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Indications are that this year’s Capital Classic between instate rivals West Virginia University and Marshall could be the best yet, and this is a series that generally has produced close, tense games with great performances.
West Virginia comes in eager to avenge an unexpected 75-71 loss in last year’s game when Herd guard Damier Pitts went off for 25 points.
This year, with a young team that is liable to do anything at any time, West Virginia faces what is probably a tougher challenge from a Marshall group that is 13-4 to the Mountaineers’ 13-5 and unbeaten in four Conference-USA games.
It is a Marshall team that crashes the boards, leading the nation in rebounding margin at 11.1 more per game than its opposition.
“They are a great rebounding team, probably the best we’ve seen,” WVU coach Bob Huggins said.
West Virginia normally doesn’t let too many people knock it around on the boards, having a rather good enforcer in Deniz Kilicli and the nation’s third-leading rebounder in Kevin Jones, averaging 11.6 per game.
Jones, however, has not exactly savaged Marshall over the years. In three meetings, Jones has hit 10 of 26 shots (38.4 percent), grabbed 22 rebounds and scored 28 points, 8.7 per game, with 7.3 rebounds a game.
“Before, I haven’t been asked to have a big game against them,” Jones explained.
This year, though, he has taken on leadership of this team and knows it is necessary for him to have a big game.
“You always want to perform well, especially in an instate rivalry like this,” he said.
If Jones has not produced the mega-games that now seem to be a nightly occurrence with him, over the years both WVU and Marshall have seen some great performances ... both in victory and defeat.
The first really great performance came in the very first game in 1929 when Marshall “Little Sleepy” Floyd, a WVU Hall of Fame member, led the Mountaineers with 20 points. That, of course, has been matched many times, but not when the team scored only 44 points and when the entire Marshall team scored but 21.
The next really great performance came in 1978 after the series took a long hiatus when WVU’s Dynamic Duo of Mo Robinson, checking in with 26 points and 16 rebounds, Lowes Moore, with 25 points, 8 assists and 5 steals, buried Marshall.
The next year the Mountaineers’ Greg Nance scored 17 points with 18 rebounds, the most rebounds any Mountaineer ever pulled in in the series.
Perhaps the best player WVU ever threw against Marshall was Greg Jones who, in three games from 1980 to 1982, scored 25, 28 and 31 points. The 31 points were the most a WVU player ever scored against Marshall while Tamar Slay’s 35 in the 2000 game were the most any Herd player has recorded in the series.
Lester Rowe followed Jones’ heroics with a couple of monster years of his own, scoring 27 points in a 1983 loss and 25 on 10 field goals in 12 tries in a 1984 victory.
In 1992, Chris Leonard of the Mountaineers had as memorable a game as anyone with 29 points built on 10 of 11 field goals.
In recent years the series has been close and hard fought without any real blowouts, something Huggins attributes to a pair of factors.
“It’s hard to blow anyone out when there’s that much emotion involved and, honestly, when you have 202 fouls called in four years it’s hard to get into a flow,” Huggins said, alluding to a startling statistic.
That figures out to 50.5 fouls per game over four years, a sign of the intensity ... or lousy officiating.
“Obviously you have to call fouls,” Huggins said. “You have to call them when fouls are there, but you don’t have to take it to extremes. Go back and look at the tape. There were a lot of fouls.
“You hope if we foul a lot they call a lot of fouls on us and if they foul a lot they call fouls on them. You just hope they don’t try to even them up and call fouls that aren’t there.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.