Marshall men's basketball: Herd swats UCF, 75-71
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – The Marshall men's basketball team said it entered Saturday's game against the University of Central Florida desperate for a win. That desperation didn't show against the Knights.
The Thundering Herd kept calm as it battled through 11 ties and 16 lead changes, blocking 14 shots to swat UCF out of the Cam Henderson Center in a 75-71 win.
Marshall (10-12, 3-4 Conference USA) shot 51 percent from the field for the first time since beating Nevada on Nov. 24. The Herd snapped a three-game losing streak, ended UCF's (15-6, 5-2 C-USA) four-game winning streak and sent current UCF coach and former Marshall Coach Donnie Jones out of the Henderson Center with a loss for the last time as a conference opponent. UCF heads to the Big East next season, and hasn't beaten Marshall in Huntington since Jan. 13, 2007.
"They did a great job of finding a way to win the game this afternoon," Marshall Coach Tom Herrion said. "We just kind of grinded it out."
Elijah Pittman led Marshall with 20 points, while DeAndre Kane dished 12 assists and Nigel Spikes blocked nine shots.
UCF's last lead came with 4:41 left in the game, when forward Keith Clanton, who led all scorers with 24 points, hit two free throws to put the Knights ahead 59-58. The Herd recovered to lead by as many as eight in the final seconds thanks to, of all things, the free throw line. Marshall entered the game last in C-USA shooting 56.5 percent from the line, but made eight of 14 free throws in the game's final 2:04.
"We're tired of losing, man," Spikes said. "It's wearing down on us. We're not a losing team like that. That's not our mentality, so we really stepped it up today. Everybody came ready to play."
Spikes had one of his best all-around games in a Marshall uniform. His nine blocks ties three others for the fourth-best total in the Marshall record books. The last Herd player to reach that number was Hassan Whiteside against Ohio on Nov. 28, 2009. Spikes added 11 points, making five of six free throws despite shooting 46.5 percent from the line this season, and four rebounds.
Marshall's defense was suffocating early in the game, as the Knights, who entered Saturday second in C-USA shooting 48.3 percent from the floor, made just three of their first 18 shots. UCF shot 41.3 percent for the game, with only Clanton and Calvin Newell (19 points) making more than they missed.
"You can look at Clanton and say he had a big day," Herrion said, "but our job on those complementary guys, I thought, was outstanding."
Isaiah Sykes, who entered had scored at least 20 points in each of his previous four games, scored just 10 against Marshall on 4-for-15 shooting. Tristan Spurlock made just two of 10 shots against the Herd.
"I knew (Marshall was) talented in there, athletically," Jones said. "They really played well. I thought our guys had some good looks in there. We tried to dunk a few balls that we missed."
Meanwhile, the Herd had seven players making at least half the shots they took. D.D. Scarver scored 16 points for Marshall, while Dennis Tinnon added 13. Marshall's 51.9 percent shooting from the floor edged its 51.6 percent night against Nevada as its best shooting performance of the season.
The Herd returns to the road for its next two games, Wednesday at Tulane and Feb. 9 at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Marshall has not yet won a true road game this season.
@tagline: Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.