HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- The Marshall men's basketball team eked past Conference USA's worst team Wednesday night. Now the Thundering Herd prepares for C-USA's best.
The Herd weathered 21 lead changes and 11 ties to beat Rice 71-70 at the Cam Henderson Center. Marshall (11-14, 4-6) now moves to Saturday's game in Huntington against No. 22 Memphis, the conference's only ranked team.
The only shot junior guard DeAndre Kane made all night might have been the biggest basket of the game.
Leading 67-65 with less than a minute to go, the Owls (5-19, 1-9) went into a man-to-man defense for the first time in the entire contest.
Marshall called a play that sent Kane streaking to the hoop, where he made the layup and was fouled. He hit the free throw with 34 seconds left to give the Herd a 70-65 lead.
Rice's surprise defensive shift in the final seconds gave MU the opportunity to run that play, which it wouldn't have run otherwise.
"We wouldn't have run that if they were in zone," Marshall Coach Tom Herrion said. "That was the first time they came man. We saw them go man, so we spread it and held the (shot clock) and we ran it at about 12 (seconds), which is our timing on that. It's a play we run often against man-to-man, but we would not have run that against zone. It's not as effective."
That five-point cushion in the waning seconds gave the Herd the breathing room to shake off one last heave of a 3-pointer from Julian DeBose, who banked in a deep attempt after rebounding his own miss. With 1.8 seconds remaining, Kane grabbed the inbounds pass and launched it high into the air to run out the clock.
Marshall also held the Owls at bay from, of all places, the free throw line. MU, the worst free-throw shooting team in Conference USA, made 11 of 15 from the line in the second half, including 10 of its last 11.
Nigel Spikes and Elijah Pittman combined to shoot 11 of 16 from the free throw line Wednesday by altering their shooting approaches. Spikes has taken a couple of steps back from the line on his attempts, while Pittman now shoots his from the right corner of the line.
"That's something me and (Kane) came up with," Spikes said of his new shooting style. "I was shooting it a little too hard, so I decided to take a couple of steps back and give myself some more room."
The Owls entered Wednesday's game as the conference's worst scoring, shooting and rebounding team, but hung tough with the Herd in all three categories. Despite a major height disadvantage, the Owls were outrebounded only 31-25. They shot 48.2 percent from the floor and began the contest excelling in what they do best - shooting 3-pointers. Rice, which leads C-USA in 3-point field goals and attempts, made five of its first 10 from beyond the arc.