Marshall basketball: Herrion, Herd look to continue defensive intensity
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Marshall Coach Tom Herrion sat in the same spot, facing voice recorders and television cameras, three days prior, lamenting his Thundering Herd's loss of defensive identity.
Yet on Saturday, facing a heated rival in the teams' last dance at the Henderson Center as conference opponents, Herrion faced those recorders and cameras and praised his team's ability to put a lid on the hoop.
Now the Herd has to find a way to keep it going.
Marshall's block party - 14 to be exact - sent Central Florida and former Herd Coach Donnie Jones back to Orlando with a 75-71 loss, snapping the Knights' four-game winning streak and handing UCF its sixth straight loss at the Henderson Center.
Marshall will try to take that on the road, where it has yet to win this season, for games Wednesday at Tulane and Saturday at UAB.
The Herd (10-12, 3-4 Conference USA) entered Saturday on a three-game losing streak, letting Southern Methodist shoot 48.1 percent from the floor in a 68-57 loss Wednesday.
That performance, especially letting SMU shoot 55.6 percent in the first half, had Herrion very disappointed in his team's defense.
He was in a much better mood Saturday.
"I thought defensively we were really, really good," Herrion said. "Our first shot defense was outstanding."
The Knights (15-6, 5-2 C-USA) made just three of their first 18 shots from the floor, a number of them blocked. The Herd, led by Nigel Spikes' nine blocks, dominated the paint. Spikes' block total tied 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 rejected two Kasey Wilson dunk attempts.
"I give him props for that," Spikes said of Wilson's gumption. "I wouldn't back down from nobody, either. But ain't nobody gonna dunk on me."
Herrion said Spikes wasn't the only Marshall player who needs applause for his post play.
"We got great production out of the five today," he said. "It might have been the best production we've ever gotten since I've been here, collectively. I know everyone wants to talk about Nigel - and deservingly so - but (Robert) Goff was phenomenal in the first half. And Yous (Mbao) was really good in the stretch he came in. So those three guys collectively gave us a big day in the pivot. "
Goff made three of four shots against UCF, while Mbao blocked three shots in just 4 minutes. UCF shot 41.3 percent from the floor against Marshall, seven points below its season average, and made just six of 19 3-pointers.
While the players said the tension between the two teams because of Jones - who left Huntington for Orlando in 2010 - has passed, this remained a strong rivalry. DeAndre Kane said it didn't matter who ran out of the visitors' locker room Saturday. Marshall was desperate for a victory.
"We were just trying to get wins," he said. "We're in the bottom half of the standings. We dug a hole and we're trying to climb out of that hole."
Marshall was seventh in C-USA's 12-team standings after Saturday's game, and is fighting to climb into the top four to earn a first-round bye in the conference tournament. To get there, the Herd must finally win a true road game this season. Marshall is 0-7 in those games and lost five of them by double digits.
"It's hard to win on the road, no matter who you're playing or where you're playing," Kane said. "Nobody expected us to be 10-12. Nobody expected the Lakers to be (21-26). It happens. It's how you respond. Right now, everyone's together. We're all one. Now we need to take this togetherness to Tulane."
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.