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Marshall basketball: Herd has to show toughness

HUNTINGTON - Marshall forwards Robert Goff and Dennis Tinnon and center Nigel Spikes will take the court tonight for the final time at home in a Thundering Herd uniform.

Loved ones in tow, the three will be honored before tipoff and get a chance to reflect upon the paths they took to reach this point.

Spikes watched the roster and the coaching staff change during his five years on the team. Goff and Tinnon took the junior college route, with Marshall providing the stability both players had not enjoyed before.

The trio has experienced the joy of 20-win seasons and the frustrations of struggling through this one.

And with today's 7 p.m. tipoff (CBS Sports Network telecast), they and the rest of the Thundering Herd will try to celebrate those fond memories by exorcising some awful ones.

The Herd's Senior Night opponent is Southern Mississippi, which scorched Marshall in a 56-point win in Hattiesburg. The Herd hasn't forgotten, and its players want to show their home fans and the Golden Eagles that dismal performance isn't what they are.

"There's a difference between getting beat and getting stomped on," Tinnon said. "We've just got to show toughness. We've got to be aggressive. We've got to show teamwork.

"We've got to put all that in one and leave everything out on the floor."

That is intensity the Herd wished it had shown in its last game, a 103-76 loss Saturday to Houston. Marshall (12-17, 5-9 Conference USA) allowed the Cougars to shoot 59.4 percent from the floor for the game and a staggering 67.7 percent (21 for 31) in the second half. It was Marshall's eighth loss in the last 11 games and had Coach Tom Herrion lamenting that Houston was able to get any shot it wanted with little resistance.

Yet that loss paled in comparison to the one that started the slump, at Southern Miss. The Herd was never in the game, trailing 53-17 at halftime and ultimately losing 102-46. The Golden Eagles (22-7, 11-3) shot 63.2 percent from the floor in that game and forced Marshall into 31 turnovers.

And, Herrion said, Southern Miss might be playing even better at the season's close.

"They have a high level of confidence," Herrion said. "They're one of the best passing teams I've seen all season in college basketball. They share the ball really, really well. And they have a great grasp of their system, offensively and defensively."

The Golden Eagles have won four of their last five games, that loss coming to C-USA leader Memphis. Southern Miss is the conference's best shooting team both overall (48 percent) and from behind the 3-point line (38.7 percent). The Golden Eagles average 15.1 assists per game which is fourth in C-USA, but 42nd overall in Division I, and Southern Miss is the conference's runaway steals leaders, averaging 10.6 per game.

Dwayne Davis leads Southern Miss with 14.5 points and 4.5 rebounds a game and shoots 47.9 percent from the floor and 40.4 percent from beyond the arc.

For Marshall to reverse its fortunes from that nightmare first meeting, Herrion said his team must improve in an area in which its struggled all season - putting the ball in the hoop. The Herd is 10th in the conference in shooting 42 percent from the floor and last in shooting 30.2 percent from 3-point range.

"We've got to compete offensively," Herrion said.

"We've got to do a myriad of things offensively and defensively, but our competitive nature, a lot of those ingredients have to be paramount entering this game."

Marshall's three seniors want a win more than anything. It would be a happy finale to a night meant to spotlight their accomplishments. Spikes rebounded from junior-season knee surgery to currently sit sixth on Marshall's career blocked shots list with 115, while posting career highs in points and rebounds.

Tinnon at one point was working in a Wisconsin beef processing plant before coming to Marshall. Now he averages a career-high 10.6 points per game and sits third in C-USA averaging 9.3 rebounds per game. Goff has worked his way back into the starting lineup for the past three games, no easy task after a head injury in a practice-drill collision with Yous Mbao forced him to miss two games.

"It's always been good playing before these fans," Spikes said. "They give us good support and they always have our backs. It's going to be a little sad saying goodbye to them, but I've loved my time playing here."

Goff said the best way to end the night and offer a final thank you to those fans would be to upset the Golden Eagles, atone for that first game and build momentum heading into next week's C-USA Tournament.

"It's definitely a statement game," Goff said. "We're definitely going to come out playing like that, especially our three seniors. We have to come out and bring it."

*  *  *

SOPHOMORE FORWARD Jamir Hanner did not make the trip to Houston, staying back in Huntington to work on academics, Herrion said. Hanner was on the floor for practice Monday.

Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.redd@dailymail.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.


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