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Marshall basketball: Moral victories won't do for Herrion, Herd

HUNTINGTON - Moral victories are useless when, as in the case of the Marshall men's basketball team, actual victories are so crucial.

The Thundering Herd erased a 19-point second-half deficit and pulled back into a tie with the University of Alabama at Birmingham on Saturday night. But in the final minutes, the Herd reverted back to the off-target crew it was when it slid into that hole in the first place, ultimately losing to UAB, 52-48.

Marshall made it a game in the final minutes, but Marshall Coach Tom Herrion found no satisfaction in that comeback. The Herd still is guaranteed a sub-.500 regular-season record.

"Zero," Herrion said before standing up from in front of the media room microphones.

Marshall (12-16, 5-8 Conference USA) has three games left in its regular-season schedule, a home game with Southern Mississippi sandwiched in between contests at Houston and East Carolina. Any postseason hopes likely will come from a deep C-USA Tournament run. And that means the Herd must spend the week fixing the errors that have kept it from winning consecutive games since the beginning of December.

The Herd could start with its shooting. Three days after its best performance of the season - hitting 54.2 percent in its first road win of the season at the University of Central Florida - Marshall suffered its worst. The Herd shot 15 for 57 from the floor (26.3 percent), 3 for 26 from 3-point range (11.5 percent) and 15 for 26 from the free throw line (57.7 percent). In missing a staggering 42 shots, the Herd missed 19 in a row between the final minutes of the first half and the first few minutes of the second, and didn't score a single point for an 8:12 span.

"We missed every conceivable shot," Herrion said. "We missed point-blank layups, we missed 3s, we missed mid-range shots and we missed 11 free throws.

"Tonight was a glaring example of when the ball doesn't go in, you have to find a way," Herrion added.

It looked like Marshall might have found that winning comeback formula early in the second half. When Elijah Pittman hit the Herd's first 3-pointer of the game (after 15 straight misses from beyond the arc), that sparked a massive rally. Marshall trailed UAB by 19 before that basket, and when Nigel Spikes made a mid-range jumper with 2:51 to go, the game was tied at 46. The Herd was buoyed by a defense that forced the Blazers to shoot four for 21 from the floor and commit seven turnovers in that span.

But the Herd went cold again when good shooting was needed most. Following that Spikes jumper, Marshall went 0 for 4 from the floor, all 3-pointers, for the rest of the game. The Herd had a chance to tie with five seconds left after DeAndre Kane stole a UAB inbounds pass, but Tamron Manning's 3-pointer fell short.

"We scratch our heads and think, we came out with aggressive energy and we wanted to win, whatever it took," said Pittman, who led all scorers with 18 points. "A lot of shots weren't falling tonight, but in Orlando a lot of shots were falling. There are nights like that. You've just got to play through that."

Shooting woes are nothing new for Marshall. The Herd is 10th out of 12 C-USA teams in field goal percentage (42.2 percent) and dead last in 3-point field goal percentage (30.6 percent) and free throw percentage (57.7 percent). But Marshall might also have to shore things up in a more surprising category - rebounding.

The Herd has no problem pulling down boards. Its 38.6 per game is second in the conference. But Marshall isn't doing so well in keeping other teams off the glass. Opponents are grabbing 36.7 rebounds per game, 10th in C-USA. Despite UAB having only two players on its roster taller than 6-foot-6 - Marshall has seven standing 6-8 or taller - the Blazers outrebounded the Herd 50-45. It was the ninth time in 12 games an opponent outrebounded Marshall.

"We were trying to treat missed shots as loose balls," UAB Coach Jerrod Haase said. "Just go fight and chase and do try and get a box-out when you can, but just really compete for them."

Haase liked the way his players bodied up against Marshall under the basket, which he said helped in their rebounding efforts. Pittman agreed, and said the Herd has to find a way to get better at taking rebounds away from opponents. While they're mostly taller, longer and more athletic than their foes, that's not translating to the boards.

"They're outsmarting us," he said. "They know we're athletic and just want to go jump and power up and get the ball. They're putting bodies on us, double-bodying us and keeping bodies attached to us where we can't use our athleticism. We just have to use our heads."

Pittman said a more cerebral approach to the glass should be a major point of emphasis in the practices before Marshall's next game, this Saturday at 2 p.m. at Houston.

"That's going to be a big switch," he said. "We have to learn how to get rebounds without being 6-8, 6-9 and can jump over everyone. We have to be able to get a rebound and fight for it when someone is boxing you out. We're going to work on it and get better."

Time is running out. Saturday's worst shooting performance this season one game after its best showed again the inconsistency that has plagued the Herd in 2012-13. And now Marshall returns to the road, where it's won just once this year, for two of its last three games.

"It's tough, man," Kane said. "We went down there to Orlando and played so good. I didn't think we played bad here (Saturday). We just couldn't make a shot in the first half. We turn the page and get ready for another game."


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