Spikes hopes to get even
CHARLESTON -- Nigel Spikes has played in the Capital Classic three times with mixed results.
Spikes helped the Marshall University men's basketball team beat the West Virginia Mountaineers in 2011, but was on the losing side in 2010 and again on Jan. 18, 2012.
And, he's enjoyed every minute of it, except for the losses.
"You really can't ask for anything more," Spikes said. "It's a great environment."
Marshall (5-3) and West Virginia (2-3) play for the 41st time at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, and the 12,380-seat Charleston Civic Center will be close to sold-out if not jammed to the rafters. A state-wide television audience will be watching on the Capital Classic Network of six stations that includes WOWK-13 and a national viewing crowd on ESPN Full Court.
It's an emotional event for everyone involved with a loud reaction from the crowd to every move a player makes. At times, the noise becomes ear-splitting.
Spikes said he attempts to avoid being distracted by the energy in the arena, but you really can't. Fans of both teams can be hostile, he said.
"You can try blocking it out. That's what you're supposed to do," he said.
Marshall coach Tom Herrion wants his team to embrace the emotion of the Capital Classic and play its game.
That shouldn't be a problem for Marshall newcomer Elijah Pittman, who has been on the big stage before.
Pittman, a 6-foot-9 junior forward averaging 14.0 points and 5.5 rebounds for Marshall was part of a Covington Holmes High School team that won the 2009 Kentucky Sweet 16 state tournament championship in Lexington, Ky., at Rupp Arena.
"Nothing compares to Rupp," Pittman said Tuesday. "That crowd was amazing."
Pittman said he was recruited by WVU coach Bob Huggins in high school before grade problems led him to junior college.
"They look like the West Virginia team I've been watching since high school when I wanted to go there," Pittman said. "It will be a rough, intense, physical game. Some fouls get called, some don't.
"We just have to focus on making shots and finish the ball."
Marshall also has Dre Kane playing in the Capital Classic for the third time. Kane scored 18 when Marshall won in 2010 and scored 19 in the last game.
Kane said it's a fun game.
"It's a rivalry, both teams are going hard and the refs are calling a hundred fouls," he said. "It's fun."
Marshall's big front line of Pittman, 6-8 Dennis Tinnon and the 6-10 Spikes will go against an equally big team of Mountaineers led inside by 6-10 Aaric Murray and 6-9, 260-pound Deniz Kilicli who is from Istanbul, Turkey, and nicknamed "The Istan-Bull."
Tinnon and Spikes are in the top 50 nationally for rebounding average at 9.4 and 9.1 respectively. Tinnon averages 11.9 points and Spikes scores 7.9 per game. Murray, a transfer from LaSalle, lead WVU with 7.0 rebounds a game while scoring 10.2 points. Kilicli averages 9.4 points and 6.4 rebounds.
Those big WVU players will meet Marshall at the rim, and the Herd has had trouble finishing shots.
"We missed a lot of shots around the basket that we can't miss in future games," Spikes said this week following a win over UNC Wilmington. "When we get that down pat it will help us a lot."
Leading scorers for both teams are guards -- Kane for the Thundering Herd averaging 16.0 and Juwan Staten of the Mountaineers averaging 10.8.
WVU's man-to-man defense that Herrion said "can take you out," will be locked in on the Herd's all-conference junior guard. Kane has struggled to make shots lately, going 13-for-52 in a three-game winning streak.
"They'll (shots) fall," Kane said on the eve of the game.