HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Marshall men's basketball Coach Tom Herrion said his Thundering Herd team hasn't yet become a work of art, but against South Carolina State on Friday night, he could see sketches of what that group could become.
The Herd needed a little time to get warmed up, but once it did, it cruised to a season-opening 85-69 win over SCSU at the Cam Henderson Center.
Marshall (1-0) got a career-high 31 points from senior Elijah Pittman, plus 17 points and 10 rebounds from freshman forward Ryan Taylor and 15 points and five assists from freshman point guard Kareem Canty.
"Good, bad, indifferent, those three categories, we could put a lot into each category tonight," Marshall Coach Tom Herrion said. "I'm happy for the group. It's a young group and an inexperienced team. I thought we did an excellent job stretching (the lead) to 32 and I thought we did a poor job maintaining it. We kind of took our foot off the gas."
Much like in its exhibition win over Concord, the Herd wasn't able to shake the Bulldogs to start the game. South Carolina State (0-1) opened with a 5-0 lead and led as late as 8:44 left in the first half, when Canty's free throws had cut the Bulldogs' lead to 21-20. But once Marshall took its next lead on a Pittman 3-pointer, the Herd never trailed again.
But it did allow the Bulldogs to chip away at what grew to a 32-point lead with 9:11 left in the game. Marshall went cold after that making just two of 14 from the floor and none of its five 3-point attempts. The Herd made just seven of 30 3-pointers in the game.
"Too many, way too many," Herron said of the 3-point attempts. "I think we are, and can be a good shooting team, but that's too many."
With eight first-half steals, the Marshall defense started to stymie the Bulldogs and the Herd took a 44-30 lead into halftime. Marshall outscored SCSU 8-2 in the first 3:30 of the second half and never looked back. The Herd held the Bulldogs to 38.2 percent shooting Friday and forced SCSU into 18 turnovers. Marshall scored 23 points off those turnovers and 12 on the fast break to South Carolina State's zero.
Pittman's final point tally was the first time a Herd player eclipsed the 30-point barrier since DeAndre Kane did it last season versus Hofstra. The senior -- whose previous Herd high was 22 points reached four times -- said his success Friday was the result of teammates who trusted him to score.
"My teammates really kept helping me," Pittman said. "They kept giving me the ball and realized I was hot. It's all a team thing."
Pittman was one of two Herd players to hit a 3-pointer Friday, making five of 11. Canty was the only other player successful from beyond the arc, making two of five. Cheikh Sane chipped in with seven rebounds in 15 minutes. Matthew Hezekiah was SCSU's only double-digit scorer with 18 on 9-of-13 shooting.
The Herd returns to the Henderson Center floor Tuesday for a 7 p.m. game against the University of Rio Grande (Ohio).
– 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.