Nov. 17, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
MOREHEAD, Ky. – The 95th Marshall-Morehead State basketball game was one for the ages … and a lot of people aged quite a bit during it Sunday afternoon at Ellis Johnson Arena.
I don’t really know where to start. Thundering Herd coach Tom Herrion said in his 25 years on various sidelines in the college game, he’d never seen a game with 108 free throws.
I’ll see Coach H. and up the ante.
I’ve sat courtside on press row for 44 college basketball seasons, and it’s the first time I’ve witnessed a first half that lasted one hour, two minutes. It’s the first time I’ve seen 108 free throws in a game, or seen 79 fouls – that includes three technicals -- in a game.
Welcome to college basketball, version 2013-14.
Eventually, the host Eagles outlasted the Herd, 102-94 in overtime, a 29-point swing from Marshall’s 48-27 lead with 1:00 left in the first half.
To call this one foul-marred would be an understatement the length of Yous Mbao’s inseam. Even with an overtime period, there were 2.4 free throws every minute played. Eight players fouled out.
Marshall (2-1) was two personals from having to finish with four players on the floor, after five in green fouled out.
Morehead (3-1) had 21 fouls by halftime. Marshall, in its road debut of the season, had an astounding 27 in the second half and OT. The Herd ran past its school record for fouls – 41 against Ohio in December 1985.
Yet, although the Herd finished with 44 personals and Morehead 32, the only “peeps” were those by the whistles of the striped-shirted crew of Doug Sirmons, Bert Smith and Brent Hampton.
They had two aggressive teams that like to push tempo. Add in the new rules on hand checks, arm bars and impeding an offensive man who is in motion toward the basket and you have the carnage witnessed by a noisy crowd of 3,506.
It long appeared like Marshall was going to land the 1,399th victory in school history. The Herd took control of the first half as the Eagles sank so deeply into foul trouble that coach Sean Woods went to a 2-3 zone.
After halftime, it was a different game. Morehead scored the final six points of the first half, then climbed within four eight minutes into the second half, at 59-55.
“We came out the second half like we had mud in the bottom of our feet they just drove us to death and attacked the rim,” Herd senior forward Elijah Pittman said. “And then came all the fouls. They made some free throws and we missed some free throws toward the end.”
Against the Morehead zone, “we really still executed our plays and got what we wanted,” Pittman added. “We’ve just got to finish. It’s a 40-minute game and we came out 20 minutes like it was over. We could have put it away but we just didn’t finish it.”
In a game with multiple astounding boxscore figures, Morehead was 40-of-65 at the foul stripe. The Eagles won despite not being able to get the Herd lead down to fewer than four points until the final 30 seconds of regulation.
That’s because Morehead was a miserable 12-of-29 at the stripe in the second half, then inexplicably was perfect on 14 FTs in OT.
Marshall became unglued as the game dragged on and players fouled out (besides five disqualifications, two other MU players finished with four fouls).
Marshall had only 11 turnovers at halftime and ruled the glass, 22-12. By the finish, the Herd had 26 turnovers (Morehead had 14 steals in the game) and the Eagles won the boards, 40-39.
“Obviously, it was a tale of two halves to say the least, a frustrating, painful loss for our group,” Herrion said. “We played so well for the first 20 minutes and then they kind of flipped the switch on us, drove it hard, spread us out and we did such a bad job guarding the ball and obviously let them live on the foul line. We didn’t make enough plays down the stretch for a lot of different reasons at a lot of different positions and let it slip away from us.
“We have to learn from it. We have a lot of guys who never have been in this situation before. It was a frustrating day to say the least and one we clearly let slip through our fingers.
“Give Morehead credit; they kept fighting, and it has to be a great learning experience for us. We have to move forward, no way getting around that.”
Pittman’s 31 points in his home state (Covington, Ky.) led Marshall for a third straight game, and as Stephen F. Austin (2-1) comes to the Henderson Center on Thursday for a first meeting with the Herd to open the four-game Roundball Showcase, the forward is averaging 30.3 points.
And while he made 10-of-11 at the stripe, his finished the game 3-for-11 from the 3-point line. Through one long stretch of the second half, freshman point guard Kareem Canty’s scoring and leadership kept the Herd in front.
With 3:57 to go in regulation, Canty had 16 points, 9 assists and 4 turnovers and 32 minutes. He played every minute (9 more) the rest of the way, but had only three points, no assists and five turnovers to finish with 9 and 9 in the last two categories.
“He played too many minutes for any player, but freshman game on the road, this environment…got to do a better job,” Herrion said. “He had to play too much (41 minutes). He didn’t come out in the second half.”
And after a very good free-throwing performance in the first half (21-of-27, 78 percent), the Herd was only 8-of-16 after halftime.
“I was more disappointed defensively, to be honest with you, than I was offensively,” Herrion said after Morehead had only three turnovers in the final 25 minutes. “Offensively, you go on the road and have 26 turnovers and you don’t have a shot to win a game.
“Offensively, I thought turnovers were our biggest problem and defensively, we did not guard the dribble in the second half especially, let them live on the foul line and then we let the rebound margin slip away. We dominated in the first half; the second half, we let it slip.”
Pittman said the 26 turnovers were most costly and that the Herd – just like all other teams – will have to cope with a game that is being called tighter in hopes of opening up the offensive side of the game.
“We got loose with the ball,” Pittman said. “We’ve got to control the ball, stay tight with it. We didn’t stay tight with our handles. We have to get the ball over halfcourt and get into our sets, or if we’re going to transition, just push it. We just can’t turn the ball over.”
He said the new rules being enforced in a desire to allow offensive drivers and cutters more freedom changes the game “a lot. It slows the game down a lot. Some people like the game slow, some like it fast but it slows our game down a lot.
“We’re a transition, fast team and with so many whistles, back and forth, now we’re kind of playing a halfcourt game.”
Herrion said the Herd will play on and learn from its loss, and made it clear he had no complaints “one bit about the refs; we had three good guys on the game today.”
“All I beg is if we’re going to call it like it is right now, that they call it the same all the way to the Final Four,” the Herd coach said. “That’s all I want. That’s all any coach wants.”