Marshall basketball: Herd aims to keep momentum rolling
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- The Marshall men's basketball team showed how it's capable of playing in Tuesday's 88-84 win over Southern Mississippi.
"I told y'all we can play, man," senior center Nigel Spikes said after that game. "We can play with the best of them."
Now it has to show it's capable of an encore, because the Thundering Herd closes its regular season Saturday visiting one of Conference USA's better teams.
Marshall (13-17, 6-9) wraps things up before next week's conference tournament with a rematch against East Carolina (17-11, 8-7). The Pirates are ahead of the Herd in the standings, but they weren't as lucky in the teams' first meeting in Huntington. ECU never led that Jan. 19 game and Marshall led by as many as 29 in cruising to a 77-56 win.
That was the last time the Herd held a .500 record this season. Marshall was pulverized by 56 points against Southern Miss in its next game, the start of an 11-game span in which the Herd went 3-8. The Herd got its revenge on the Golden Eagles with a 60-point swing between their first and second meetings, and freshman guard Tamron Manning said that provides a major momentum boost heading into Saturday's game.
"I think this (Southern Miss) win is huge," he said. "What they did to us at Southern Miss and how everything happened after that loss, I think getting this win against them is really big for our confidence heading into ECU and it's going to propel us into the tournament."
Marshall upset the Golden Eagles with its best shooting night of the season. Working from the inside out, the Herd shot 55.1 percent from the floor and made 10 of 20 3-pointers.
Marshall also began the night in a zone defense, a rare occurrence, but a strategy Marshall Coach Tom Herrion used after starting all three of his senior post players.
Southern Miss finally found its shooting touch, but made just three of 13 shots in the game's first 8:08 as Marshall took an early 16-8 lead.
The Pirates are surging into Saturday's game as well, winning three of their last four. ECU is C-USA's second best scoring team (76.9 points per game) and is led by the conference's scoring leader Maurice Kemp (18.4 ppg). The 6-foot-8 senior forward also is eighth in the conference with 7.7 rebounds per game, sixth in steals at 1.7 per game and 10th in blocked shots averaging one per game.
He's seconded by Miguel Paul, who averages 12.8 points and 6.7 assists, a close second in C-USA to Herd guard DeAndre Kane's 6.9-assist average.
Yet neither had an easy night against Marshall in January. Kemp scored just 10 points on 5-of-15 shooting, pulled down just three rebounds and committed four turnovers. Paul scored 17 to lead ECU, but shot 4-for-14 from the floor and 1-for-6 from 3-point range to do it. He also recorded only five assists against seven turnovers.
As a team, the Pirates shot just 32.8 percent from the floor and 25 percent from beyond the arc against Marshall in their first meeting. Meanwhile, the Herd dominated ECU inside, outscoring the Pirates 52-30 in the paint. The Herd also scored 20 fast-break points to ECU's four.
A win over ECU won't move Marshall to the first-round-bye level of the C-USA tournament, but it would help the Herd's seeding. A win and a lot of assists from other conference teams could push the Herd to the No. 7 seed. If Marshall loses and SMU beats UTEP, the Herd could fall to the No. 10 seed.
Spikes feels that, if Marshall can play ECU on Saturday the way it played against the Pirates in January and the way it played Southern Miss on Wednesday, it can win and take the first step into climbing up the seeding chart.
"When we play like that, we play great," Spikes said. "When we play as a team, we can get a lot of wins. And this isn't the best we can play. We still have little things we can capitalize on. When we start doing that, we'll look even better."
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.