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Marshall basketball: Strong defense propels Herd

HUNTINGTON - When Marshall decided to give Savannah State a taste of its own medicine, the Thundering Herd turned a nail-biter into a solid win.

The Tigers began the night with aggressive defense, but the Herd finished with it and finished off Savannah State. Marshall allowed the Tigers just nine points in the game's final 8:28 and pulled away for a 64-48 win at the Cam Henderson Center on Wednesday night.

"That was as consistent a 40 minutes of defense we've played all season, in my opinion," Marshall Coach Tom Herrion said. "We did a good job of bottling them up."

Marshall (7-5) also got a big boost from what's normally one of its weak spots - free throw shooting. The Herd had only nine second-half field goals, but hit 11 of its last 12 free throws. Guard D.D. Scarver led all scorers with 18 points, making 5 of 7 free throws and 3 of 6 from 3-point range.

But Marshall's defense was its anchor Wednesday night. The Herd held the Tigers (5-7) to 33.3 percent shooting. They made just 9 of 30 shots in the second half and were 0 of 7 from 3-point range. The last time Marshall held an opponent without a 3-pointer was when Penn State went 0-for-3 from beyond the arc on Dec. 29, 1991.

Herrion said offense remained a factor, though. When the Herd started making shots, be it from the floor or the free throw line, it allowed the team to press.

"Remember, now, in order to press, you have to score," Herrion said. "So we put the ball in the basket during some stretches and got into the press."

The Herd varied its looks when it went to the press, Herrion said. At some points, it pressed with two guards up front. At others, there was just one player up top.

"We just kept mixing it up," he said. "I thought it was good to us. Even if we don't turn them over, it shortens the clock that we have to guard in the half court against a team that's somewhat deliberate. Our defense helped create some offense in different points of the game."

While the Herd struggled with turnovers - its total of 19 is a number Herrion said is bad no matter how you look at it - it forced its share as well. Savannah State committed 16 turnovers and eight of those were Marshall steals.

"We've got athletic guys, quick guys," said guard Chris Martin, who led the Herd with four steals. "We can put pressure on a team, too."

The Herd began Wednesday's game with some of the problems that plagued it during Saturday's loss to Cincinnati.

Savannah State put on a full-court press early, and Marshall struggled. When Cedric Smith swiped a Chris Martin pass and found Christopher Spears for a layup with 12:40 left in the first half, Herrion called a time out with his Herd trailing 14-6.

But Marshall started to solve the Tigers' press and created some distance in a 36-second span. Nigel Spikes hit a free throw, missed the second and Dennis Tinnon grabbed the rebound and fired it to D.D. Scarver for a 3-pointer. Tinnon found Scarver again on Marshall's next possession for another 3-pointer and the Herd took a 25-18 lead.

The Tigers recovered to go into halftime down just 27-25, but Coach Horace Broadnax admitted those threes shifted momentum.

"It probably let some of the air out of the kids," Broadnax said. "We try to work hard on defense. They try to buy into it. We still had opportunities, but it just got away."

Tinnon's assists on those Scarver 3-pointers complemented his 14 points and six rebounds. He hit his first six shots and finished 6 of 7 from the floor. The senior missed the three shots he took against Cincinnati and said it was nice to regain his rhythm.

"It felt good," Tinnon said. "The last couple games, I haven't showed up at all. I was pretty down on myself, not being able to step up and do what I can do to help us win.

"Tonight, I was more focused, getting the ball and going straight up and strong."

Rashad Hassan led Savannah State with 11 points, but shot only 5 of 16 from the floor.

Khiry White was the Tigers' only other double-digit scorer with 10.

Elijah Pittman added 10 points for Marshall, who travels to Rupp Arena on Saturday for a 4 p.m. game against Kentucky (ESPN2).

*  *  *

HERRION WORE a green jacket for Wednesday's game to honor the victims of the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Twenty first-graders and six school staff members were killed.

Green and white are the school colors for Sandy Hook.

Herrion said he's driven through that area hundreds of times on recruiting trips.

"Those kids, boys and girls, are the same age of the kids that come to my camp," he said.

"It's my way of paying tribute. It's just a small way to pay homage to the senseless, ridiculous, despicable slaughtering of all the people last Friday."

 Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.redd@dailymail.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.


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