Dec. 4, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – Some things never change.
So, while the men’s Chesapeake Energy Capital Classic basketball date has been moved up about seven weeks from what has been the recent norm, one thing stays the same.
“You’d better be ready to play,” Marshall center Nigel Spikes said. “You don’t find games like this too often.”
The annual West Virginia-Marshall game tips off Wednesday night at 7:30 before an expected sellout crowd at the 12,360-seat Civic Center, and a statewide (and then some) telecast audience.
Neither team has played as well as expected, with the Herd at 5-3 and Mountaineers at 2-3 … not that it will diminish the fervor for this game on the floor and in the stands.
WVU leads the series 29-11 – and the teams have met every season, at least once, since 1977-78 -- but the Herd has won three of the last eight.
It’s one of those games where you throw out the record book … and sometimes the elbows, too.
To call it rugged would be understatement. Thundering Herd forward Dennis Tinnon is from Green Bay, Wis. He compares Marshall-WVU to Packers-Bears in the NFL … and they’re from the old “Black-and-Blue Division.”
“I’m excited to play in it again,” Tinnon said before the Herd’s Henderson Center practice Monday. “Last year was my first time (Tinnon is a junior college transfer) and I was upset we lost, but we’re here to get ready.
“Before I played in it last year, I knew it was going to be rough from the way people talked. I knew it was going to be a dogfight because of the two teams, the rivalry and the history they have between each other.
“I just expected to fight to the end, and that’s what happened. I’d never played in such an atmosphere. You get booed. You’ve got to have tunnel vision, concentrate and leave everything on the court.”
This will be Spikes’ fifth Capital Classic. He witnessed the January 2009 game from the stands when he sat out his first season at Marshall. It was a lesson learned, the 6-foot-10 senior big man said.
“I kind of noticed as I sat there that it was very hostile there, and I took note of that,” said Spikes, who with Tinnon combines for nearly 19 rebounds per game. “It’s a packed house, it’s fans on both sides, it’s a competition between the two in every way you can get.
“You don’t play in very many games like this, where it’s very, very intense with the players and with the fans, just with everything going on between the fans, even the ones that don’t go to the game. You don’t find games like this too often.
“You can’t get anything better than that.”
The game, in most of the last two decades, has occupied a mid- to late January date on the schedule, in the midst of conference play for both teams. The West Virginia Legislature was in session, and politicians and lobbyists used the game as a meet-and-greet session.
However, the teams agreed to move the contest out of the conference calendar. Unlike in football, Marshall and WVU will continue to play in this marquee sport. Why?
Maybe it’s the bottom line.
Chesapeake Energy is in the second year of a five-year title sponsorship contract at $50,000 annually. The two schools split the neutral-site net proceeds 50-50.
Last season’s game produced about $184,000 in revenue apiece for Marshall and West Virginia.
“They play tough, they’re a very physical team always,” Spikes said of the Mountaineers. “It’s the kind of game where you don’t look for any calls from the refs, and you don’t feed into what the fans say, because the fans on both sides will say anything to distract you.
“You’ve just got to keep a clear head and go play basketball.”
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Marshall owns most of the individual records in the Herd-Mountaineer series. Tamar Slay’s 35 points is the scoring record, in MU’s 82-77 loss in January 2000. Slay’s nine 3-point goals in that game is the record for baskets behind the arc.
Considering the fervor with which both teams go to the boards, one mark that could be in jeopardy is the individual rebounding record.
That’s shared. WVU’s Greg Nance, set the rebounds record with 18 in WVU’s 1979 win in Morgantown before the series went to a neutral site. It was tied by the Herd’s J.R. VanHoose in Marshall’s 81-79 overtime victory at the Civic Center in January 2002.
This will be the 24th meeting of the state rivals in Charleston. West Virginia has won 18 of the previous 23. WVU is 0-5 against the Herd in Huntington. Marshall won only one of the 12 games played in Morgantown.
Most of the greatest players from both schools never played in the game – Jerry West, Hal Greer, Mike D’Antoni, Russell Lee, Hot Rod Hundley, George Stone, Rod Thorn – because the teams didn’t meet from 1931-32 through 1976-77.
The Capital Classic will be telecast by a six-station network that coverage all in-state viewers – WOWK (Charleston/Huntington), WVNS (Beckley), WBOY (Clarksburg-Morgantown), WTRF (Wheeling), WTAP-DT (Parkersburg) and WJAL (Chambersburg, Pa., serves Eastern Panhandle). The game will also be available on ESPN3.