Marshall men's basketball: Kentucky blitzes Herd, 82-54
LEXINGTON, Ky. – In a matter of minutes in the second half of the Marshall men's basketball team's game at Kentucky, momentum, fortunes and emotions swung violently from one side to the other.
Less than a minute into the half, the Thundering Herd, in front of the largest crowd to ever see it play, cut the Wildcats' lead to two points. But that two-point lead grew to 16. Then 25. Then as many as 31.
When the smoke cleared, the Wildcats had engulfed the Herd with its size and strength in an 82-54 win that was the worst loss of Marshall Coach Tom Herrion's career.
"That was a lousy way for us to go into the break," Herrion said, "but we'll come back out of it and bounce back."
Herrion's worst losses previous to Saturday were a 26-point loss to Wisconsin on Jan. 3, 2004 when he was coach at College of Charleston, and a 26-point loss to Memphis in last season's Conference USA Tournament.
But there were a couple of points on the Rupp Arena floor when it looked like Marshall (7-6) would at least hang tough with the Wildcats' blue-chipper parade. The Herd took the lead three times in the first half, the last time when Covington, Ky., native Elijah Pittman's dunk gave Marshall a 20-18 lead with 11:43 left in the half.
But from a span that started at 11:08 left in the half and ended with 3:43 to go before halftime, the Herd made a basket on just one of 15 possessions. Marshall trailed Kentucky (8-3) 33-24 at halftime.
It was Pittman again who pulled Marshall to within two in after halftime. His dunk off a D.D. Scarver pass made it 33-31 with 59 seconds gone in the second half. But the Wildcats thoroughbreds were off to the races again as they pulled away.
Kentucky owned the inside against Marshall. The Wildcats outrebounded the Herd 48-43, pulled down 17 offensive rebounds and blocked seven Marshall shots. UK outscored Marshall 52-20 in the paint and held the Herd to 29.5 percent shooting.
Marshall senior forward Dennis Tinnon said trying to battle Kentucky's post players – the Wildcats used 6-foot-10 Nerlens Noel and 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein – was intense.
"They were really physical," Tinnon said. "I'd put my body on them and there were times when I put my body on them, with them being so long, I can't get up there."
Kentucky Coach John Calipari said the Herd was just the opponent his team needed.
"The thing I liked about Marshall was they're a very physical, bump-and-grind team that we outrebounded," he said. "And they were big. That's what we needed. We needed a team that would play that way."
Turnovers again were a problem for the Herd. Marshall committed 17 against Kentucky, but Herrion said it wasn't against the trapping, pressure defense they faced in the previous few games. It was against the Wildcats' straight-up man-to-man scheme.
"We just had really bad turnovers and really bad times for us," he said. "What you can't do with this (Kentucky) team, and they're really good, when you open the floor up off turnovers or long misses, they're so good and so explosive."
Pittman scored a team-high 20 points for Marshall in his return to the Bluegrass State. Tinnon scored 14, while center Nigel Spikes pulled down a game-high 16 rebounds, a season high for him. Guard Ryan Harrow led all scorers with 23 points, while Archie Goodwin added 18 points and Noel scored 11 with 10 rebounds.
The Rupp Arena crowd totaled 24,271, a record for a crowd watching a Marshall game. The old record of 23,783 also was set at Rupp against the Wildcats on Dec. 27, 1994. Marshall will not resume its schedule until Jan. 2, when it hosts Delaware State at 7 p.m.
-- Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.