Marshall earns bragging rights over rival West Virginia

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Tom Herrion saw success against West Virginia as a member of Jamie Dixon's staff at Pittsburgh for three years.

Behind one of Damier Pitts' best games, Herrion is forging his own winning path against the Mountaineers as Marshall's first-year coach.

Pitts tied a career high with 25 points and the Thundering Herd nearly blew a 24-point lead before holding off West Virginia (No. 21 AP) on Wednesday night, 75-71.

"He's a really good player," Herrion said. "I knew that when I got the job. He had complete control of the game."

Marshall (13-5) needed a flurry of free throws in the end to break a four-game losing streak to its cross-state rival.

"Either you go to West Virginia and you don't like Marshall or you go to Marshall and you don't like West Virginia," Pitts said. "We did it for the fans. We did it for the school."

West Virginia (12-5) was coming off a 68-64 win over Purdue (No. 13 ESPN/USA Today, No. 14 AP) on Sunday and moved into the Top 25 for the first time this season on Monday.

But the Mountaineers shot 33 percent (19 of 57) from the field and saw its four-game winning streak snapped.

"The game after the game is when people get upset," West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said.

West Virginia couldn't dig out of a hole it created by getting into early foul trouble and going more than 11 minutes without a field goal spanning both halves.

By then, Marshall's guard-oriented offense had built a 47-23 lead before the taller Mountaineers mounted a comeback, getting as close as 72-69 in the final minute.

Redshirt freshman DeAndre Kane added 18 points for Marshall.

Casey Mitchell led West Virginia with 18 points, while John Flowers added 16 and Joe Mazzulla and Truck Bryant scored 10 apiece.

Shaquille Johnson's 3-pointer gave Marshall its largest lead with 15:55 remaining and West Virginia's fans who filled the Charleston Civic Center more than 2 hours from campus were stunned.

But after a timeout, Mitchell and Flowers hit 3-pointers and the Mountaineers started turning things around.

"We knew they were going to make a run," Marshall's Tirrell Baines said. "We just had to keep our composure."

Marshall began fouling more and West Virginia went 13 of 15 at the line during a 17-2 run. Mitchell made three free throws after being fouled on a long shot attempt and the Mountaineers' deficit was cut to 53-46 with 8:03 left.

"That's how we should have played the entire game," Mazzulla said. "That's how we played on Sunday. That's how we've been playing during our winning streak. And we got away from it."

The teams traded baskets until Bryant was fouled on 3-point tries 11 seconds apart in the final minute. He hit all six free throws to bring the Mountaineers within 72-69 with 30 seconds left.

Marshall escaped by going 10 of 14 from the line in the final 2 minutes.

With Flowers and Kevin Jones on the bench in early foul trouble, Deniz Kilicli kept up the pace for the Mountaineers with four baskets over a 2-minute stretch for an 18-13 lead with 8:27 left until halftime. But West Virginia didn't hit another field goal the remainder of the half.

Marshall made nine free throws during a 16-3 run to finish the half. Pitts scored nine points in the final 3 minutes, including a 3-pointer with 6 seconds left for a 35-21 halftime lead.

It marked West Virginia's fewest first-half points and biggest halftime deficit of the season.

West Virginia returns to Big East play with a home game against South Florida on Sunday before the Mountaineers play three of their next four on the road.

"We got outplayed," Mazzulla said. "We didn't take them serious enough. We've got to forget about it as soon as possible and learn from our mistakes."

Marshall faces East Carolina at home on Saturday. Herrion will have a few days to enjoy the biggest win of his brief coaching career.

"I'm a basketball purist and I know what they've done," Herrion said. "They're a team that's been to the Final Four and they have a Hall of Fame coach. It was a terrific win tonight."