Marshall basketball: Pittman, Herd hope good vibes stick around
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Elijah Pittman's shot really had no business going in, but that didn't stop it from doing so.
Fouled on a 3-point attempt with 4:33 left in the first half of Marshall's 79-61 win over Tulsa, Pittman's off-kilter shot fell through. Before he went to the free throw line to make it a four-point play, he walked toward the man who delivered the pass, DeAndre Kane, both their faces sporting broad smiles as they smacked hands.
Pittman joked about the shot afterward.
"Had to get my man's assists back up," he said.
It was a scene mostly absent from the Thundering Herd's previous three games because it was a performance mostly absent during that same span. Marshall was at its glass-clearing, long-bombing best in trouncing the Golden Hurricane to win its Conference USA opener and snap a brutal three-game losing streak.
"This is just the first night," Pittman said. "We have plenty more nights where we have to do the same thing."
The Herd (8-8, 1-0) plays its first conference road game at UTEP at 9 p.m. Saturday, hoping the good vibes from Wednesday's big win stick around.
They were nowhere to be found during Marshall's last three losses - by 27 at Kentucky, by two at home against Delaware State and by 37 at Ohio. With each setback, the Herd players' psyches took another punch to the gut. But the end of that slide, the team was dragging.
"It definitely started to wear on us," senior forward Robert Goff said. "You could tell by the time we got to Ohio, it had gotten worse. There was no energy and a lack of focus."
Pittman said it was time for self-reflection after the Herd's turnover-filled flop in Athens. The team had entered the season with such promise. Pundits considered it the conference's No. 2 team behind Memphis and talk of an NCAA Tournament berth was strong. But stinging losses and a sub-.500 non-conference record changed those opinions.
"There was no team meeting, but there was a point in time where they told us we had to go home and look in the mirror," Pittman said. "Do we want to win or do we want to just be another team here just to play? I guess people looked in the mirror and said we've got to change and we have to step up."
That began the day after the Ohio game. The players had the day off, but that didn't stop them from coming in on their own to shoot. They felt a different energy during this week's practices, and that carried over against the Golden Hurricane. A 19-0 run in the first half put the Herd ahead for good. Marshall dominated on the glass, outrebounding Tulsa 47-32. The Herd also matched a season high with 12 3-pointers, including four each from Pittman and Kane.
"We played without any agendas tonight," Marshall Coach Tom Herrion said after the game. "We played so cohesive."
The Herd needs that to continue versus the Miners. UTEP (7-6, 1-0) won its conference opener 66-57 over Tulane. The Miners are led by senior swingman Julian Washburn (13.5 points per game, 4.5 rebounds per game) and senior guard Konner Tucker (12.8 ppg, 2.7 rpg), who led Sam Houston State in scoring last season.
UTEP lost four straight early in its non-conference schedule, but rebounded to notch wins over Nebraska and Oregon. Marshall should control the boards against UTEP much like it did against Tulsa. The Miners' 30.4 rebounds per game ranks them 322nd in Division I.
Pittman said the formula to play well against UTEP is an easy one.
"The same way we came in focused for this (Tulsa) game has got to be the same way for the next 15," Pittman said.
As dominant as it was against the Hurricane, the Herd now knows it has that type of performance in it, and should be able to offer an encore.
"It definitely gives us the confidence that we should be playing like this all the time," Goff said. "I think tonight was just a step forward."
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.