HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Marshall owned a 15-point halftime lead Saturday against visiting UNC Wilmington, but through the first few minutes of the second half the Seahawks started to chip away at the Thundering Herd's lead and get within striking distance of a team known to struggle at the foul line so far this season.
Marshall Coach Tom Herrion called a timeout with 16:57 to play after UNCW cut the lead to 53-41. In the Herd's previous two games, at Morehead State and in the Cam Henderson Center against Stephen F. Austin, the team watched leads disappear and would eventually lose in overtime.
When the players got together, senior forward Elijah Pittman said they asked each other if they wanted to go through what they had experienced in those two losses.
"When they started off hot we got into a timeout and looked at each other and said, 'We've been through this. You all want to go another night like this or are we going to show ourselves we improved'," Pittman said. "Our team stepped up."
The Thundering Herd outscored UNCW 43-37 the rest of the way en route to a 96-78 win, using the cushion from a strong offensive first half to keep the Seahawks at arms length through the final stages of the contest.
Playing with a lead has not been a Marshall strong point so far in the young season, and despite showing some improvement Herrion said it is a part of the game the team still needs to improve.
"You have to go through experiences to gain experience, and we've been through them," Herrion said. "We've learned harsh lesson, in my opinion. Painful lessons. There are very few situations that I can put in practice where I practice that we're up 20. You've got to go through those experiences and we've got to get better at it."
In each of the previous two losses things went bad for Marshall late in regulation. Poor foul shooting put the Herd in bad positions and both Morehead State and Stephen F. Austin were able to capitalize. Marshall went 13 of 23 on foul shots against the Seahawks and not letting Saturday's game get to the point the previous two had was important going forward, Herrion said.
"We've played really well for 39 minutes. It's been the last minute of the last two games, in my opinion," he said. "That doesn't ease the pain of how we've lost but this group's been playing really well but we didn't finish in two situations. We've got to learn to do that better."
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WESTERN KENTUCKY visits the Henderson Center on Tuesday in a matchup between future Conference USA opponents. The Hilltoppers have qualified for each of the last two NCAA tournaments and were picked as the preseason favorite to win the Sun Belt Conference this season.
Herrion said it would be one of the best non-conference games Marshall has hosted in a long time and he hopes the fans treat it as such despite students being off campus for Thanksgiving.
"It's as good a non-conference game as we've had in this building in a long time," he said. "We need a big crowd Tuesday night."