Marshall basketball: Bench steps up, Herd tops Golden Eagles
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Marshall senior center Nigel Spikes didn't offer a rank for Tuesday's 88-84 win over Southern Mississippi among the most satisfying of his four-year Thundering Herd basketball career. But the mile wide grin across his face gave away what it meant for him and the rest of the team.
"This was a great win, man," Spikes said. "They got the best of us on the road and there's no better way of getting them back than in your own house on Senior Night."
The Herd's upset of the Golden Eagles was a stunning 60-point turnaround from their first meeting Jan. 23. Southern Miss plastered the Herd 102-46 in that game, but Marshall (13-17, 6-9 Conference USA) turned the tables Tuesday night by shooting a season-high 55.1 percent from the floor and making 10 of 20 3-pointers.
"Sunday afternoon, when we practiced up in Gullickson (Gym), I knew the kids would respond," Marshall Coach Tom Herrion said. "We've had great focus."
The Eagles (22-8, 11-4) are one of the conference's best, behind only Memphis in the C-USA standings, but they were a bubble team in terms of the NCAA tournament. They still held out hope to sneak in as an at-large bid, but they led only twice in Tuesday's second half, the last time coming with 3:12 left in the game. A Jonathan Mills free throw gave Southern Miss a 75-74 lead.
Marshall led by as many as five in the final minutes, keeping its distance from the Eagles via the free throw line. The Herd made nine of its final 10 free throws in a foul-filled last 30 seconds of the game. Marshall made 24 of 31 free throws (77.4 percent) against Southern Miss on Tuesday, while the Eagles struggled to make 17 of 30 (56.7 percent).
The Herd got big performances at different points of the game from several players. Marshall sprinted out to a 16-8 lead on the back of senior forward Robert Goff. Goff, who has started the last four games, scored eight of Marshall's first 10 points. Two of those came from long jumpers.
"I think it gave us a great jolt, great energy and set the tone," Herrion said. "We knew those were soft spots against the zone. He took really good shots against the zone."
Freshman Tamron Manning came off the bench to score 12 points, tripling his career high and playing a major part in the Herd's 37 bench points. Manning also added four assists and no turnovers in his 18 minutes.
"I was trying to penetrate the open gaps in the zone," Manning said. "I was trying to get in the gaps as much as possible and hit my open shots."
While Marshall found the gaps in the Eagles' zone defense, the Herd put Southern Miss on its heels in the beginning of the game with its zone defense. Marshall started all three of its seniors - Goff, Spikes and forward Dennis Tinnon - with juniors DeAndre Kane and Elijah Pittman. With the height and length in that lineup - only 6-foot-4 Kane stands shorter than 6-8 among those five - Herrion said a zone was the right move.
"It's something we've had and we've used, and tonight we obviously used it in abundance," Herrion said. "We've played it. We never started a game in it, but with the lineup we started, I didn't think we could match up man-to-man because we were too big."
In building that 16-8 lead, Marshall held Southern Miss to 3-of-13 shooting and two turnovers in the game's first 8:08, outrebounding the Eagles 10-3. Southern Miss, mainly senior guard Dwayne Davis, didn't let the Herd run away with the game. The Eagles ended the night shooting 51.9 percent (28 for 54) from the floor. Davis, who entered Tuesday night averaging 14.5 points per game, scored a career-high 35 by making 13 of 20 shots, including five of seven from 3-point range.
Pittman led Marshall with 22 points, making seven of 12 baskets and four of seven from beyond the arc. D.D. Scarver led the Herd's bench scorers with 19 points. Jonathan Mills added 13 points and a game-high eight rebounds for the Eagles, while Jerrold Brooks added 12 points.
In shocking the Eagles, Marshall scored as many points in Tuesday's first half as it did in the entire first meeting. It gives the Herd a big boost heading into its regular season finale Saturday, a 5 p.m. contest at East Carolina. With the clock winding down until next week's C-USA tournament, Pittman said the team came to a reckoning. The players didn't want games like their January loss to Southern Miss define their season, and there was time left to turn things around.
"We sat down at practice and talked to each other," Pittman said. "Do we want to keep getting beat by 50 against all these other teams, or do we want to win by 50? We talked to each other and tonight it showed."
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.