HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - The Marshall men's basketball team learned that it can succeed even without one of the country's top scorers.
Despite falling behind by 16 points after Elijah Pittman's ejection on a "flagrant 2" foul, the Thundering Herd rebounded to beat Western Kentucky, 74-64. Conference USA did not assess any additional penalties from the ejection, saying any further punishment would be handled in-house by Marshall. No additional punishment had yet been announced going into the Herd's 4 p.m. Saturday game at East Tennessee State University.
Pittman was whistled and tossed after elbowing Western Kentucky's Caden Dickerson in the neck away from the ball with less than five minutes gone in Tuesday's game.
Without its leading scorer, the Herd (4-2) buckled down on defense and got a breakout game from sophomore shooting guard Chris Thomas, who scored 27 points and got to the basket at will against the Hilltoppers. Meanwhile, WKU made just six of 27 second-half shots from the floor.
"They gave us their best punch, and they expected us to fall because we're a young team, but we're a bunch of fighters," said freshman point guard Kareem Canty, who chipped in with 15 points and three assists. "We go to war with each other day in practice and we went to war tonight on the court."
The Herd surprisingly excelled at the free throw line, an area where Marshall has struggled for a while. The team finished last season dead last in Conference USA shooting 59.8 percent from the free throw line and actually was shooting worse this year. Its 58.5 percent from the line was last in C-USA and tied for 334th in Division I.
Yet Thomas made 12 of 13 from the line and both Tamron Manning and TyQuane Goard were 4-for-4, as Marshall made 30 of 39 free throws for the game, including 23 of 28 in the second half.
"The free throws were terrific," Herd Coach Tom Herrion said. "We made them when they counted. It's nice to see the ball go through the net for these guys. They work really hard. We've taken 2,800 free throws in the last 48 hours (prior to the WKU game) outside of practice as a team. It paid off, now we just need to be consistent."
The ETSU Buccaneers bounced back after losing their first four games of the year, including one to Marshall's new C-USA foe Charlotte and one to the Herd's future C-USA foe WKU. ETSU picked up back-to-back wins against Samford and Stephen F. Austin. But the Bucs (2-5) couldn't keep the momentum going. ETSU fell to Tennessee Tech, 98-83, on Wednesday.
Senior forward Kinard Gadsden-Gilliard and junior guard Rashawn Rembert pace the team in scoring. Gadsden-Gilliard averages a team-high 14.4 points and shoots 52.4 percent from 3-point range (11 of 21). Rembert averages 13.7 points and shoots 40.5 percent from beyond the arc (15 of 37).
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.r...@dailymail.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.