Marshall basketball: Thundering Herd holds on for home win over lowly Owls
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- The Marshall men's basketball team eked past Conference USA's worst team Wednesday night. Now the Thundering Herd prepares for C-USA's best.
The Herd weathered 21 lead changes and 11 ties to beat Rice 71-70 at the Cam Henderson Center. Marshall (11-14, 4-6) now moves to Saturday's game in Huntington against No. 22 Memphis, the conference's only ranked team.
The only shot junior guard DeAndre Kane made all night might have been the biggest basket of the game.
Leading 67-65 with less than a minute to go, the Owls (5-19, 1-9) went into a man-to-man defense for the first time in the entire contest.
Marshall called a play that sent Kane streaking to the hoop, where he made the layup and was fouled. He hit the free throw with 34 seconds left to give the Herd a 70-65 lead.
Rice's surprise defensive shift in the final seconds gave MU the opportunity to run that play, which it wouldn't have run otherwise.
"We wouldn't have run that if they were in zone," Marshall Coach Tom Herrion said. "That was the first time they came man. We saw them go man, so we spread it and held the (shot clock) and we ran it at about 12 (seconds), which is our timing on that. It's a play we run often against man-to-man, but we would not have run that against zone. It's not as effective."
That five-point cushion in the waning seconds gave the Herd the breathing room to shake off one last heave of a 3-pointer from Julian DeBose, who banked in a deep attempt after rebounding his own miss. With 1.8 seconds remaining, Kane grabbed the inbounds pass and launched it high into the air to run out the clock.
Marshall also held the Owls at bay from, of all places, the free throw line. MU, the worst free-throw shooting team in Conference USA, made 11 of 15 from the line in the second half, including 10 of its last 11.
Nigel Spikes and Elijah Pittman combined to shoot 11 of 16 from the free throw line Wednesday by altering their shooting approaches. Spikes has taken a couple of steps back from the line on his attempts, while Pittman now shoots his from the right corner of the line.
"That's something me and (Kane) came up with," Spikes said of his new shooting style. "I was shooting it a little too hard, so I decided to take a couple of steps back and give myself some more room."
The Owls entered Wednesday's game as the conference's worst scoring, shooting and rebounding team, but hung tough with the Herd in all three categories. Despite a major height disadvantage, the Owls were outrebounded only 31-25. They shot 48.2 percent from the floor and began the contest excelling in what they do best - shooting 3-pointers. Rice, which leads C-USA in 3-point field goals and attempts, made five of its first 10 from beyond the arc.
"I thought our team really battled tonight," Rice Coach Ben Braun said, "especially against a really tough interior team. They had a size advantage at probably every position, and I thought our guys battled hard. I was proud of our effort."
Rice was able to enter halftime tied at 33 after Tamir Jackson laid the ball in with two seconds left on the clock. It stayed close for the rest of the game. Rice's biggest lead was four points, and Marshall's biggest lead was five.
Spikes felt Marshall's lead could have been larger if not for errors on the Herd's part. Rice's shooting percentage was nearly nine points better than its season average, and Spikes believed Marshall could have taken more advantage of its size.
"I think we made a lot harder on ourselves than it actually was," Spikes said. "Lack of defense, turnovers, there was a lot. We weren't getting the rebounds we should have been getting."
Herrion, however, considered it a good win, and praised his team's patience and ball movement on offense. Its 51.1 percent shooting from the floor was its third-best performance of the season, and the Herd finally clamped down defensively at the 3-point line. After making five of their first 10 3-pointers, the Owls made just four of their next 17.
Pittman led all scorers with 22 points, while D.D. Scarver scored 17, including four 3-pointers. Dennis Tinnon scored 11 with seven rebounds and Spikes finished with 10 points. Kane led all players with 10 assists.
Rice had five players score in double figures, led by Jackson's 16. Austin Ramljak scored 15 points, while Max Guercy added 12 and DeBose and Keith Washington each scored 10.
The Herd was just happy to taste a victory, something that's been hard to come by. Marshall had lost five of its last six and seven of its last 10 entering Wednesday's game, and needed the boost before its toughest home game of the season this Saturday against the Tigers. The Herd went to the wire at Memphis, finally losing 73-72.
Overcoming the Owls will do a bit in erasing a sour taste from the Herd's mouths, Pittman said.
"It feels good," Pittman said. "By one, by two, by half a point, it feels good to be the ones to win."
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.