CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Juwan Staten matched his season-high with five turnovers, Eron Harris languished as a nonfactor offensively and Devin Williams was held without a basket for the first time all season.
Doesn’t sound like the game plan West Virginia had in mind for winning the Capital Classic.
But the Mountaineers, after trailing for 16 minutes in the second half, pulled together during crunch time and benefitted from a surprising MVP performance by freshman forward Brandon Watkins to ward off Marshall’s upset bid.
Watkins collected 12 points and 11 rebounds—enjoying his first college double-double after not playing a single minute in the previous game against Gonzaga. And thanks to a 16-2 closing run, WVU prevailed 74-64, retaining in-state bragging rights by overcoming a series of wrongs.
“The game’s not always going to be a pretty game,” said Staten, “and this one definitely wasn’t pretty.”
After committing only 14 turnovers in the first 10 games, Staten lost four in the first half and West Virginia (7-4) finished with a season-worst 16. But the junior point guard was money when it mattered, scoring nine of his game-high 19 points in the final 10:18 and setting up the offense with deft use of screens.
“He was uncharacteristically loose with the ball early,” said WVU coach Bob Huggins. “But we put the ball in his hands late. I’ve got a world of confidence in him. I think if we get him the ball we’re going to get a shot. He’s going to get somebody a shot.”
Staten created his own three-point play to put West Virginia ahead 63-62 with 3:41 left, using a foul-line ball-screen set by Watkins—the same play off which Staten had dished to Watkins for a previous layup. This time, Marshall switched and Staten, left isolated against 6-foot-9 Chiekh Sane, drove the lane, lunged into the Senagalese forward and drew a foul while banking in the layup.
“They don’t really handle ball-screens well,” Staten said. “I just wanted to drive him to the hole. He’s about 7-foot so I wanted to cut his athleticism off by going into his body and getting the foul.”
A minute later, Staten was back at the foul line, hitting a free throw after officials used video replay to call a deadfall flagrant technical on Marshall’s Ryan Taylor. When WVU kept possession, Staten penetrated for another lay-in and a 68-63 lead.
Marshall (4-6), held without a field goal for the game’s final 4:57, missed its last six shots and committed two turnovers—one of those a charging foul Staten drew by stepping in front of a wild-driving Chris Thomas.
The late-game struggles—and Marshall’s 10-of-24 free-throw shooting overall—left Herd coach Tom Herrion dejected about the night’s missed opportunities.
“It’s a crying shame for our kids. We played so damned hard,” Herrion said. “We beat ourselves—no disrespect to West Virginia. We lost points at the foul line and we played too inexperienced in that stretch there. We had some bad forced drives, just bad offense.”
Kareem Canty’s 16 points led The Herd, which played without suspended forward Elijah Pittman and his 21 points-per-game average. Thomas and TyQuane Goard added 11 points each.
Harris finished 3-of-9 shooting and scored only one basket in the second half, a runout dunk with 36 seconds left. He was 1-of-6 from 3-point range, where West Virginia made only 4-of-15.
“Tonight was a tough one, and I think we made it tougher than it should have been,” said Harris, whose 11 points were eight below his season average. “A couple of us came out and wasn’t ready to play. I was probably one of those guys that came out a little lackadaisical.”
But Harris called it a “team win,” crediting the Mountaineers’ bench with a 27-19 edge over Marshall’s.
“I was happy for this team—you saw us getting hyped out there,” he said. “I just want us to move on and improve.”
After shooting 1-of-6 against Gonzaga, Gary Browne was a perfect 5-for-5 from the floor in the Capital Classic. He also hit both free throws to finish with 12 points in 27 minutes off the bench.
“I need to make open shots that the defense gives me,” Browne said. “I’ve been working all summer and all year on my shots.”
Devin Williams had been WVU’s best (only?) inside scoring threat so far, but the freshman struggled against Marshall’s low-post double-teams. He finished 0-of-2 from the floor with three turnovers in a season-low 16 minutes.
At one point, Huggins yelled to his guards, “Don’t throw it in there to him anymore!”