Charleston, WV (SportsNetwork.com) - The battle for state bragging rights takes place on Sunday, as the 22nd-ranked West Virginia Mountaineers clash with the Marshall Thundering Herd in the Chesapeake Energy Capital Classic.
The Mountaineers are again off to an impressive start, posting a mark of 8-1 to this point, with the lone setback coming against LSU 10 days ago by a 74-73 final during the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. The squad managed to bounce back last weekend with a 67-42 victory at Northern Kentucky.
As for the Thundering Herd, they too started off the 2014-15 campaign with positive results, taking down three straight opponents, although the competition was a bit suspect (Jacksonville State, Savannah State and WVU Tech). Since posting those double-digit wins the team has suffered through a five-game slide, with the latest defeat being a 73-69 setback versus Penn State on Dec.6 at home.
Aside from an 85-67 loss to Louisville, a decision that began the team's losing streak, the Herd has played every game thus far at home.
West Virginia leads the all-time series by a count of 31-11, with 13 of the last 16 matchups being decided by 10 points or less. The Mountaineers have a mark of 62-20 when playing in the Charleston Civic Center.
Marshall had a total of four players score in double figures when the Nittany Lions made an appearance at the Henderson Center just over a week ago, but that was not enough to prevent the team's losing streak from being extended to five games. Jay Johnson came off the bench to produce 19 points, with fellow reserve Tamron Manning tacking on 12 in 22 minutes of action. Starters Ryan Taylor and Aleksa Nikolic accounted for 10 points apiece, and combined for seven of the team's 11 turnovers.
One of three players to have started all eight games for the Herd, Taylor is dropping in a team-best 15.3 ppg, is first on the glass with 9.0 rpg and is second with 27 assists, although that last stat compares to 25 turnovers. As a unit, Marshall is shooting only 39.9 percent from the field and 30.3 percent beyond the arc, not to mention 63.3 percent at the free-throw line, although that's still better than the competition which has converted a paltry 55.6 percent at the charity stripe.
The Mountaineers led by as many as 26 points late in the second half as they held Northern Kentucky to just 26.5 percent shooting from the floor and 2- of-20 behind the 3-point line, all while forcing 20 turnovers which became 24 points for WVU. Juwan Staten and Devin Williams both tallied 12 points for the Mountaineers, the former also pulling down eight rebounds, handing out four assists and making three steals, while Jonathan Holton tacked on 10 points, five boards and three blocked shots before fouling out.
Although he is shooting only 41.1 percent from the field, Staten continues to be the star of the show for the Mountaineers again this season. In addition to his 15.0 ppg he has also handed out 38 assists over nine games, while his 17 steals are second only to Holton (11.6 ppg) who paces the program with 8.0 rpg.
West Virginia has found a way to generate a lofty 79.4 ppg while shooting only 29.6 percent beyond the arc and a disappointing 65.4 percent at the free-throw line.