Marshall basketball: Herd glad to put road losing streak behind it
HUNTINGTON - The Marshall men's basketball team hopes familiarity will boost its chances Saturday when it hosts the University of Alabama at Birmingham at 7 p.m. That would piggyback the jolt it got from Wednesday night, when the Thundering Herd finally snapped its season-long road losing streak with an 82-70 win at the University of Central Florida.
"It really felt like it was a boulder holding us down," senior forward Dennis Tinnon said. "We could not get a road win for some reason. That just felt great. You could tell with everybody. Everybody was into it."
The Herd (12-15, 5-7 Conference USA) had lost nine straight true road games this season before turning away the Knights with a balanced performance. Elijah Pittman scored 20 points to lead Marshall, which led by as many as 22 against UCF, while DeAndre Kane scored 19 with seven assists, D.D. Scarver scored 16 and Tinnon recorded his 20th career double-double with 14 points and 15 rebounds.
It was one of, if not the best offensive night the Herd has enjoyed this season. Marshall shot a season-high 54.2 percent from the floor, making 21 of 35 shots (60 percent) in the first half. It scored 48 points in the paint and 18 in the fast break. Marshall Coach Tom Herrion said it was a deserved win for a team that hadn't quit battling for that first road victory.
"I think there was relief," Herrion said. "These kids have been banging the drum. We haven't scratched. We scratched. It took us a long time - too long, as I told our kids - but I give them a lot of credit. They haven't wilted. They haven't buckled and they reaped the benefits of their labors."
For Marshall to pull off its second straight win, something the Herd hasn't done since winning three straight between Nov. 24 and Dec. 1, Herrion said the team must play much better than the first time it faced the Blazers. After Wednesday's win, Herrion gave his staff a break and let them head to bed while he popped in Marshall's UAB game film.
"And then I couldn't sleep," Herrion said. "We were so bad. I could not believe how bad we were. What I learned was we can, I guess, play worse than we did at UAB, but I don't think we can play much worse."
Marshall allowed UAB to make nine of 16 3-pointers in Birmingham in the Blazers' 75-61 win Feb. 9. The Herd committed 17 turnovers and was outrebounded 33-22 as it trailed by as many as 22 in that game.
"That happens with lack of focus and lack of being physical," Tinnon said. "If you don't play like you're supposed to, you can lose to anybody."
The Herd played like it was supposed to against UCF. Both Herrion and Tinnon praised the team's ball movement, and how making the extra pass led to much better scoring opportunities. Tinnon said his team's performance against the Knights - both wins, actually - reminded everyone of the heights they could reach. The mission now is to keep that momentum rolling into the C-USA Tournament for one last stab at an NCAA Tournament berth.
Despite Marshall's season record, that goal remains at the front of Tinnon's mind. He helped the Herd reach the NIT last season for the first time since 1988 and he doesn't want to leave Marshall without taking the team even farther.
"Right now, it's do or die for us," Tinnon said. "This is going to give us the spark to keep going. We've got to start somewhere. This is a start to where we can open a lot of eyes, where people can say, 'Wow, why did they wait so long?'"
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.