March 2, 2014
Final Stats |
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – March madness, indeed.
In a season of struggles, for all of the foibles – real or presumed – about Marshall men’s basketball, no one can deny the Thundering Herd plays with a resiliency that finally paid off Sunday afternoon at the Henderson Center.
Down 11 points at halftime and behind by seven with 4:30 to go, Coach Tom Herrion’s team found more than one way to win and outlasted visiting East Carolina, 64-61.
The Conference USA win was about more than scoring the final 10 points of the game. It was about sophomore guard Chris Thomas playing Energizer bunny in defending one of the nation’s premier 3-point men – ECU rainbow-shooting senior Akeem Richmond – into 0-for-6 in the final five minutes.
“I would say this was a pretty entertaining game,” Herrion said. “I’m really, really proud. This is an outstanding win. You might be tired of hearing it, but I couldn’t be more proud of the group of men that is in that locker room.
“We came out with great energy and jumped them (ECU) a little early. Then we took a few punches and the middle to end of the first half they went up eleven points. We just strapped up and started challenging them.”
Marshall got its first win of the season in games in which the Herd had trailed with five minutes to play. Marshall had been 0-15 in that situation until this huge victory.
The Herd (10-20, 4-11) had staying power when it was needed. It also got a three-point play – the old-fashioned kind – from freshman forward Ryan Taylor with 10.5 seconds left to regain the edge at 62-61.
The play came out of a Marshall full timeout with 23.7 seconds to go.
And it didn’t work the way it was drawn up. Again, the Herd coped.
“It was a zone play, quick hitter, for Chris (Thomas) to come off an outside screen and come out and shoot the three,” Taylor said. “But (the Pirates) were on it, their zone closed out fast. So he dumped it down to the corner to Shawn (Smith) in the corner.
“And (assistant) coach (Mark) Cline told me if anybody catches it in the corner, to dive to the front of the basket, and luckily I got the body contact and scored through it.”
The 6-foot-6 Taylor was strong throughout, and his block on a rare Richmond foray inside the paint with 29 seconds left was just one of several potential game-changers.
“Well, I wasn’t going to foul out this time,” said Taylor, laughing, about going for the block with only three fouls, after his eight DQs this season.
That play was part of a second half in which the Pirates (16-14, 5-10) were limited to 7-of-25 marksmanship. Marshall shot only 37.3 percent for the game, but more significant statistics were no turnovers by the Herd in the first 12:25 of the second half, a 44-28 advantage on the boards, including 19-4 in offensive caroms, and 18 MU assists on 22 hoops.
“We went man (defense) all down the stretch,” Herrion said. “Our defense was much better. It was outstanding in the second half. I felt Chris Thomas did a phenomenal job defending ECU’s Akeem Richmond. I think Chris had his most complete game.
“On both ends of the floor he challenged him (Richmond). Akeem is a lethal player. It was a nice job and good win for us … We were unselfish, but we make it hard on ourselves. We don’t finish.
“That said, the biggest play of the game was Ryan Taylor’s and-one that put us up by one point.”
Taylor had his seventh double-double of his young career with 15 points and 12 rebounds, but his stat line also included five assists and a block in 37 minutes. Thomas’ 17 points led Marshall, and point guard Kareem Canty was prominent despite going 3-of-17 while playing every minute.
The freshman scored all 11 of his points in the second half, including a left-corner three with 4:04 to go that started the hosts back from a 61-54 deficit. He also made two free throws to finish the scoring after Thomas fought through two screens to deflect Richmond’s game-winning attempt at 0:05.
“Well they set two screens for him (Richmond), and I got stuck on the first one but the second player didn’t really screen me so it gave me time to recover to my man,” Thomas said. “And he’s only 6 feet tall and I’m 6-5, so I just used my length to make it a tough shot.”
Thomas sideline deflection of a pass headed for Richmond with 7.1 seconds left also cost the Pirates some valuable time.
“I was worried (Richmond) was going to shoot it every time he touched the ball,” the Herd sophomore guard said.
The fourth Marshall player in double figures was Smith, with 10 – his first double-digit game in the scorebook in the last 14.
With all that, there still was a degree of difficulty in a game of runs.
Marshall opened with a 20-7 lead, then went 1-of-12 in the final 7:30 of the half (while the Pirates were 9-of-12) to fall behind 41-30. The Herd then came out of the half with 16 unanswered points in 5:52 before ECU climbed in front again, 61-54, with 4:31 left.
Then, Marshall ran off the final 10 points as the Pirates came up empty on their last seven possessions. Caleb White was the game-high scorer with 23 for ECU, while Richmond had 15, but was only 5-of-16 on threes.
The win lifted the Herd to 2-9 in games decided by one- or two-possession margins or in overtime. Down seven late, did Taylor figure his team was about to lose another tough one?
“A little bit,” he said, smiling. “I think even though we’re a young team in years and on paper, we’ve grown up a lot, been through a lot from the beginning of season. It was good that we got the win, because it tells us we can win games like this.
“In the conference tournament coming up, there’s not going to be a blowout game here, a blowout game there. There will be close games like this one, and I think us being a young team, being in those close games, you grow up quicker, learning from experiencing it, watching film and learning from that.
“We went down seven and we just huddled the team during a timeout and said, ‘Let’s go, we’ve been here before, we know what to do.’”
The Herd plays its regular-season finale at “The Cam” on Thursday night against visiting Charlotte (15-13, 6-9), then gets a first-round C-USA Tournament game at UTEP’s Don Haskins Center on March 11, against an opponent to be determined in the very fluid C-USA standings.
“I think they’re playing with much more poise,” Herrion said of his club. “Name a situation and we’ve been in it. Many of those situations haven’t gone our way, but we managed the game very well late. Out of the timeout we did a great job getting the ball to Shawn Smith out of that set play and he passed it to the mid-post for Ryan Taylor. It was a big and-one.
“We just haven’t been a tremendous finishing team. We leave so many points around the rim. I thought Shawn Smith was really good today. His only missed basket was a missed dunk. We had a lot of contributions and it was nice to dominate the offensive glass. We had only 12 turnovers.
“Again this was a very good win and I’m extremely proud of our kids.”