CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Marshall and West Virginia’s men’s basketball programs have previously met 45 times, though the Mountain State’s two Division I schools haven’t squared off since March of 2018 and haven’t faced each other in a scheduled matchup since December of 2015.
It remains to be seen if and when the series resumes in the future, and although that won’t be the case Tuesday inside the Charleston Coliseum, a second-round matchup in The Basketball Tournament between Best Virginia and Herd That will have more the feel of a WVU-Marshall battle than a typical summer game.
The alumni-based squads of Marshall and West Virginia meet at 8 p.m. for the right to advance to the West Virginia Regional final in a contest that will air on ESPN3.
A year ago in TBT, Herd That was within a second-round victory of facing Best Virginia in the round of 16.
“Being from here, it’s really good for the state,” Best Virginia head coach James Long said. “Last year, we even talked about it and how it’d be great. Every time I see the Elmores and [Herd That assistant coach Tommy Orcutt], I’m like, ‘it’d be really great for the state and city if we could play.’ We just had to handle our business.
“I hope a lot of people come out, because it does feel like we’re playing back at our schools again. It’s going to be a really good game and there’s some really good basketball players out there. All in all, it’s going to be really good for the city and regardless of what happens, it’s something we’ll all remember for a long time.”
In Sunday’s TBT opener, No. 4 Herd That secured its spot in the second round by virtue of a 77-71 win against Founding Fathers. HT scored the final six points of a tight contest to advance.
That left it up to Best Virginia in the nightcap, and although the top seed got off to a sluggish start, it managed to enter halftime with a five-point lead against No. 8 Virginia Dream. Long’s team then put together its best stretch of the contest in a dominant third quarter that saw Best Virginia outscore Virginia Dream 25-6 as it rolled to a 75-45 victory and locked in the second-round matchup with Herd That.
“They have great competitors on that end and we do on our end as well,” Best Virginia forward Kevin Jones said. “It should be a great game. It’s great for the city and great for the state. It’s going to feel like old days again. I can’t wait to get to it.”
Although Herd That guard Jon Elmore struggled offensively for much of his team’s opening-round win, the squad still managed four double-figure scorers, including former Western Kentucky standout Justin Johnson, who had a team-high 17 points on 5-of-6 shooting in his first game as a member of Herd That.
Fellow forwards James Kelly and Ryan Taylor were also instrumental in the outcome. Kelly made the game-clinching 3-pointer and scored 16 points to go with a game-high nine rebounds. He made 6-of-9 shots in the victory, while Taylor made all four of his field-goal attempts, including a pair of triples in an 11-point outing.
“Going into this year, our goal was to add more firepower — and that’s what we did,” Elmore said. “But we don’t have a season to practice together and jell together to make that March run whenever everybody is playing their best. Our goal is every possession, every quarter and every half, keep meshing and build that chemistry.”
Herd That shot nearly 50 percent from the field against Founding Fathers and made 17-of-30 shots from inside the arc. However, HT hurt its cause by making only 16-of-31 free throws, which had the team’s attention despite producing the desired outcome.
“You put a million dollars on the line and people get tighter,” Herd That guard Stevie Browning said. “As the games go on, the law of averages will kick in, but we had a tough night from the line. We didn’t shoot the ball great from three, but we had people step up and that’s what it takes to win big games. It was the type of collective effort that it takes to win this tournament.”
While Best Virginia won its TBT opener in far more comfortable fashion, it, too, benefitted from a collective effort.
Jones led all players with 18 points and eight rebounds, while new addition Jermaine Haley and former Fairmont State standout Jamel Morris scored 11 apiece. John Flowers added 10 points and made three of the team’s seven triples, while Devin Ebanks contributed six points and eight rebounds.
Virginia Dream was held to 26 percent shooting, made only 4-of-28 attempts from deep and its turnover total (16) nearly matched its field goal output (18).
No. 1 Best Virginia vs. No. 4 Herd That in the TBT West Virginia regional semifinals.
Tuesday, 8 p.m. Radio broadcast on MetroNews. pic.twitter.com/kQnfxU1rjG
— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) July 25, 2022
With seven of Best Virginia’s 11 players new additions, Long believes the team should only improve as TBT progresses. That was certainly the case over the two halves against Virginia Dream.
“We have a whole bunch of guys who are great basketball players and we have size and shooting,” Long said. “We have a whole bunch of people who can do a lot of different things. It’s just going to keep taking some time.”
The winner of Tuesday’s nightcap will face the winner of a 6 p.m. second-round matchup between No. 2 Bucketneers/No. 6 War Ready in the regional final at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
While a trip to TBT quarterfinals will be on the line for one of the two in-state teams Wednesday, the sole focus for both squads is on what’s ahead Tuesday.
“It’s great for the city, state and tournament,” Elmore said. “Marshall fans and Mountaineer fans love each other, so it’ll be fun to have this place packed up.”
“It’s good for the state to give the fans something to cheer about,” Flowers added. “Two Division I schools in our state playing on a national stage.”