CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's often a recipe for long-term heartache. A young college basketball roster fights like crazy for two straight games. In the first, it holds a lead against one of its conference's best for most of the contest. In the second, it battled back from a double-digit deficit to tie the game in the final seconds.
In both, those young players watched a 3-pointer dash their hopes. When spirits get crushed twice in a row, a young team could pack it in. What pleased Marshall men's basketball coach Tom Herrion on Saturday night was that his young squad didn't.
The Thundering Herd, with a lineup stacked with freshmen and sophomores, erased another early double-digit hole and withstood a late 3-point barrage from Charlotte to beat the 49ers, 59-56, in Charlotte.
"I'm proud of our kids," he said after the game. "I'm proud to be the coach of the group in that locker room right now.
"The heart, the resolve, whatever you want to call it, whatever adjectives you want to use," he continued, "this group is really special to me because they haven't given up when everyone else maybe has in some instances, and sometimes everyone is frustrated with some of the results. But this group just battled."
The Herd (9-17, 3-8 Conference USA) had lost three straight, four of its last five and eight of its last 10 entering Saturday's game and, early on, it looked like its game versus the 49ers (14-10, 5-6 C-USA) would be more of the same. Marcus Bryan's layup with 7:51 left in the first half gave Charlotte a 30-19 lead. It was two of Marshall's younger players, freshman point guard Kareem Canty and sophomore shooting guard Chris Thomas, who led the Herd's rally.
The duo, neither of whom were on Marshall's active roster last season, combined for 39 points, 21 from Canty and 18 from Thomas. Thomas went on a personal 8-0 run against Charlotte after that Bryan basket, twice hitting free throws after getting fouled on layups, to pull Marshall back into the game. In the 17-2 run to end the first that gave Marshall a 36-32 halftime lead, Thomas scored 10.
"Chris is obviously our best scorer," Canty said. "He can score in different ways. He's just a bucket-getter. That's what he does. He gets buckets, and when he's on like that, I just keep feeding him."