CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia waited 36 minutes, 19 seconds to lead Saturday night's Capital Classic. The Mountaineers made it last.
In a game that was missing meaningful and memorable individual moments from the Mountaineers, the decisive minutes were defined by what they'd been lacking. WVU turned loose balls and rebounds into opportunities it couldn't create earlier to pull away with a 74-64 victory before 11,038 inside the Charleston Civic Center.
"I knew we were going to come out on top somehow," WVU guard Eron Harris said. "What's been the trend is we play super-duper hard at the very end of games. We've got to change that so we play hard the whole game."
WVU used a pair of timeouts inside the five-minute mark to make its work matter. After the first, Harris missed a 3-pointer, but Terry Henderson tipped an offensive rebound to himself and found Gary Browne alone at the top of the key. Marshall's defense was out of position and left a lane for Browne in the middle. Browne drove, stopped in the paint and flicked in a floater to cut Marshall's lead to 62-60.
Juwan Staten and Brandon Watkins defended a ball screen deep in Marshall's backcourt on the next possession and the ball came free. Watkins fell on top of the ball and Browne called timeout with 3:50 to go. When play resumed, Staten scored on a drive and was fouled. His free throw gave WVU its first lead with 3:41 left. The game had only been tied twice and for just two possessions before that.
It finally changed for WVU when Staten drew a charging call against Marshall's Chris Thomas. Staten then dribbled away the shot clock, but missed a driving layup. Remi Dibo dashed in from the perimeter to grab the rebound and score for a 65-62 lead.
Marshall's Shawn Smith was fouled on the other end, but teammate Ryan Taylor was called for a dead ball technical foul. Smith went 1-for-2 at the foul line, extending his team's free throw trouble, before Staten went 1-for-2 for Taylor's technical foul for a 66-63 lead with 2:44 left to play.
The Mountaineers took the ball out of bounds and Staten again dribbled away the shot clock. He bluffed using a screen from Watkins on the left before racing right to beat Kareem Canty again for a layup. Smith missed for Marshall and Watkins grabbed his 10th rebound of the game. Browne pump faked a defender on the 3-point line and stepped in to make a long jumper and suddenly the Mountaineers had matched the game's largest lead when the Herd called a timeout down 70-63 with 1:23 to go.
WVU (7-4) punctuated the game, to say nothing of the final five minutes, when Thomas drove right into Watkins. He blocked a lifeless shot, grabbed the loose ball and flipped it ahead to Harris, who dunked for the game's final score.
It's just the fifth time in the last 16 meetings the game wasn't decided by single digits. The Mountaineers have won three straight against Marshall, seven of eight and 14 of 18.
"Well, that's a crying shame," Marshall Coach Tom Herrion said. "No disrespect to West Virginia, but we beat ourselves. We played too inexperienced during that big stretch and we contributed mightily to this loss tonight. It's just sad we couldn't get the job done tonight. Our youth showed at the wrong times."
Watkins, who played two minutes in the Dec. 5 loss to Missouri and didn't get off the bench at all in Tuesday's loss to Gonzaga, was named the game's most outstanding player. The 6-foot-9 freshman had 12 points, 11 rebounds, two blocks and two steals. Huggins only went to Watkins after starters Kevin Noreen and Devin Williams and freshman sub Nathan Adrian wore out his patience in the first half.
"That's what they recruited me for," Watkins said.
Staten had 19 points, six rebounds and four assists, but also matched a season high with five turnovers. Huggins said Staten was "uncharacteristically loose" with the ball, especially in the first half, where he had four turnovers, but that Staten was also the key to the winning surge.