Jan. 5, 2010
HUNTINGTON, W.Va--Marshall University (12-2) defeated Southern Miss (9-5) 76-63 in the Conference USA Opener for both schools Jan. 5 in the Cam Henderson Center. The Thundering Herd never trailed in the contest as Damier Pitts opened the game with a three-pointer 21 seconds in. The Golden Eagles stayed within in two points for much of the first half and trailed by four, 35-31 with 2:48 to go. The Herd mounted a quick 6-2 spurt that pushed the lead to eight. Marshall led 41-35 heading into halftime. The Thundering Herd opened the second half by mounting a 11-3 run that was capped off by a Tyler Wilkerson jumper and gave MU a 52-39 lead. The Marshall lead fluctuated between eight and 14 points for much of the closing frame.
With Marshall up 66-52 and 7:40 to play, Southern Miss saw Maurice Bolden score four of their next eight points to cut the Herd lead to 66-60 at the 3:55 mark. Pitts responded with a three-pointer on the ensuing Marshall possession to make it a three-possession game. The Thundering Herd got a stop and Chris Lutz sank a three-pointer with 2:42 remaining to give MU a 72-60 advantage. Shaquille Johnson and Dago Pena would score baskets to make it 76-60 before Bolden's three with 13 ticks left made it the final 76-63.
Wilkerson went 6-of-8 from the field on his way to a team high 14 points. Johnson and Tirrell Baines each scored 12 points. For Baines, it was an impressive performance as he his scheduled to undergo arthroscopic surgery on his left knee Jan. 6 to repair a slight meniscus tear. Pitts scored 11 points, dished out a game high seven assists, and grabbed three rebounds. Hassan Whiteside, MU's 7-0 freshman post player, blocked seven shots, nabbed six rebounds, and scored five points. Southern Miss was led by Gary Flowers who scored 13 (all in the first half) while Bolden had 11.
"It has been our motto the whole week planning on getting into conference play. We are ready to play, everyone is excited. Our first season is over, and we are into conference play ready to go," Wilkerson said. "Coach Jones has been telling us that once we got into conference play every night was going to be a grind. Tonight was the first night we saw it. Our guys are relaxed though. Everyone is confident and we are going to keep working. We are off tomorrow then we come back Thursday and start preparing for East Carolina. Tirrell is a big part of our team. He comes in and gives us a lot of energy. We are going to miss him, but we have to keep playing. When one man goes down we have to grow stronger. Last year when I went down the guys brought it together and played hard, so that is what we are going to do, we are going to play hard while Tirrell is out. "We have other guys we can play. Nigel (Spikes) who can come in and I can go to the four. We have Dago who can come in, and Antonio (Haymon) who can play the four as well. We have a pretty deep bench, so we are just going to play ball."
"I am having surgery on my left knee so I tried to go out with a bang," Baines said. "It is hard, but it is something that needed to be done. My knee will be sore tomorrow, so it needed to be done so I can come back strong half way through the conference schedule. We have been doing the same thing for the past three years. I try and get rebounds, give effort, and go hard, to try to inspire my teammates. Hopefully they are going to miss me tomorrow."
"There was a lot of physical contact and a lot of competition," said Marshall head coach Donnie Jones. "It was a great Southern Miss team, I'm impressed with the talented team that they have. I'm really proud of the way our guys, when things got tough, withstood a couple runs. They went zone, which we figured they would do, but we found ways to hit two-point baskets - which we needed. We held Gary Flowers scoreless in the second half, which was a big key in the adjustments that we made with our defense. I'm really proud of Damier Pitts, Shaquille Johnson and Dago Pena, those guys were freshmen going against that physicality last year in conference play. If they didn't make a shot they would tuck their head and think everything is based on scoring. Tonight they were excited about playing, being veterans now. They players it's hard for are the freshmen. Hassan got two shots tonight, which is what the flow of the game was. I think with our guys now being a little older they understand the physicality of the game. Along with Tirrell Baines, who came off the bench and gave us an incredible effort tonight. He played like the Tirrell Baines that we know."
Marshall resumes C-USA play Saturday night when the Herd travels to East Carolina. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.