HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - The Marshall men's basketball team spent most of Tuesday's game against Western Kentucky without one of the nation's most prolific scorers.
In his place, a pair of first-year players carried the Thundering Herd back to a win.
Sophomore shooting guard Chris Thomas scored a game-high and career-high 27 points and freshman point guard Kareem Canty chipped in with 15, as the Herd bounced back from Elijah Pittman's early ejection to beat the Hilltoppers, 74-64 at the Cam Henderson Center.
"Our defense won the game tonight, guys," Marshall Coach Tom Herrion said. "I thought we were outstanding. That's a tough team to guard."
Pittman - a senior, the Herd's leading scorer, Conference USA's leading scorer and the fifth-best scorer in the nation at 29.4 points per game - was tossed with 4:53 gone in the first half. He had opened Marshall's scoring with a 3-pointer at the 19:15 mark, but the Herd trailed 13-7 when WKU's Caden Dickerson went to the floor holding his chest after Pittman fouled him away from the ball.
Officials huddled around the scorer's table monitor for a few minutes and, when they walked back onto the court, gave Pittman a "flagrant 2" foul and sent him to the locker room.
"The Pittman situation, I don't have any grip on that right now," Herrion said. "I haven't seen it. I'll look at it and deal with it, so there'll be no comment on his situation until I get an idea of what's going on."
WKU Coach Ray Harper wasn't hesitant to comment about the foul.
"I thought he should have been ejected," Harper said. "There's no place in college basketball for that. He's lucky the kid didn't get really hurt."
The Herd was out of sorts for a while after that, falling behind as far as 24-8 and failing to make a shot from the floor for more than six minutes. Yet, led by freshman point guard Kareem Canty and sophomore shooting guard Chris Thomas, Marshall (4-2) climbed back into contention. Canty's jumper with 4:39 left in the half cut the Hilltoppers' lead to 27-22.
A 9-0 WKU run gave the Hilltoppers (3-2) some more breathing room at 36-22, but the Herd went on an 8-0 run of its own. Thomas' two free throws with 10 seconds left allowed Marshall to get into halftime down just 36-30.