Feb. 2, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – It was Groundhog Day, and the UCF basketball team never saw Nigel Spikes’ shadow.
At least, it seemed that way.
The 6-foot-10 Marshall center didn’t come from nowhere, but he did come from no points and no rebounds in his first 14 minutes of the Thundering Herd’s previous game, a home loss to SMU on Wednesday.
Three days later, Spikes made life on the inside miserable for the Knights and their coach who had recruited Spikes to Marshall, Donnie Jones.
In UCF’s last trip to the Cam Henderson Center before the Orlando, Fla., program heads to the Big East, Spikes and his teammates impressed in a 75-71 Conference USA victory Saturday before a snowy roads-negotiating crowd of 5,856.
“That may have been the best production we’ve had at the spot, the five, since I’ve been here,” said third-year MU Coach Tom Herrion.
Leading the way was Spikes. He had a career-high nine blocks – the most since Hassan Whiteside took his swatting ability to the NBA after one college season.
Marshall’s 14 blocks – backup Yous Mbao had three in four minutes -- matched the school high against a Division I team, set in the highest-scoring C-USA game in history, a 121-115, triple-overtime Herd win on the same floor in February 2010.
The 14 blocks were the most in a regulation (40-minute) game in 100 seasons of Herd hoops.
Spikes also scored 11 points, and the Herd (10-12, 3-4) used a 59-percent second half to hold off UCF (15-6, 5-2)
“Great game, Spikesy,” Jones said, clasping hands with his one-time Herd recruit before entering the postgame media Q&A.
“Marshall is good,” Jones said in the media room. “There’s a reason they were picked second in the league. Tom [Herrion] did a good job today with this team. Those guys are really talented. I’m happy for Nigel Spikes. I’m not happy for us, but that’s what I thought Nigel could become here.”
Marshall gave its big man plenty of help.
“We were desperate today, and that’s how we played,” said Herd junior guard DeAndre Kane, who finished with 12 assists – double his scoring total.
Speaking of Groundhog Day, Herrion was tired of seeing the same thing over and over. Punxsutawney Phil didn’t see his shadow Saturday – meaning a supposed early spring – but the Herd coach wouldn’t mind seeing six more weeks of winter if his team would play as it did against the Knights.
Six weeks of winter, to the day, would take the Herd into the March 16 C-USA Tournament championship game in Tulsa. That’s a long way away, especially with MU heading on the road to Tulane and UAB this coming week.
After the loss to SMU, Herrion challenged his team – again, similarly to the previous week, when Marshall, facing the league’s top two teams, followed a loss at Southern Miss and a narrow defeat at Memphis.
Spikes was among those getting the Herrion eyeball.
“Yes, we talked a lot,” Herrion said. “(Spikes) wasn’t the only one. We challenged and as a senior, it’s ‘tick-tock, tick-tock,’ the clock’s really ticking, and you’d better hear it.
“That was my message to Nigel and a couple of other guys in particular, and he responded with a lot of energy.
“He played like a senior should coming down the stretch.”
Marshall had lost seven of nine and three straight entering the game, and it didn’t start well for Spikes. He got his first foul only 2:02 into the game, and took a seat on the bench. Robert Goff entered and got his first foul 40 seconds later. Enter Mbao.
Spikes returned four minutes after that, then got his second personal with 7:52 still left in the half. Herrion, however, was stretching his big men out in the foul line in the scorebook, as they had to cope with UCF big man Keith Clanton (24 points, 9 rebounds).
Herrion said of Spikes’ quick exit, “You don’t like to take ‘em out so early, but you’ve got to save them.”
The MU coach was as effusive as ever about his team’s post play. “And our first-shot defense early in the game was phenomenal.”
“Nigel, Goff, Yous, that was as productive a play out of that spot we’ve gotten in maybe three years I’ve been here, collectively,” Herrion said. “Goff in the first half, I thought, was tremendous when Nigel picked up second foul.
“Yous not only blocked three shots, he gave us tremendous energy.”
The three “fives” combined for 17 points, 12 blocks, 7 rebounds and a steal. And Spikes played the final four minutes with four fouls, but still scored two times down low and got his final block.
“I just tried to keep my head up, keep playing hard,” Spikes said. “My college days are coming to an end, so I’m playing desperate, do what I got to do to get a win … There are a lot of things we needed to step up on and we stepped up tonight, and free throws were one of those things.”
Spikes said in watching tape of previous UCF games, he had an inkling he might be able to contribute a backstop presence defensively. UCF took 11 more shots than the Herd (63-52), but 14 of those attempts were batted away.
They attacked the basket a lot, and I knew after watching film I could get a lot of weakside blocks,” Spikes said. “When the guards would drive, I’d just slide over a little and help and timed it. Most of it was me being aggressive and playing hard and us wanting to win.
“My confidence was high today, and the blocks really got me going. The offensive end, that was just things I work on in practice, usually (don’t do it in games), but today was fine time to do it.”
He said the early performances by Goff and Mbao in his absence “kept my energy going. Rob came in and played really hard. Big Yous, he’s always playing hard no matter what. That really helped me a lot, so when second half started, I had a lot more energy, and I was ready to go.”
Spikes conceded, “It’s been a lot harder to get rebounds” this season, because foes have come to respect a Herd strength on the boards.
And although Marshall lost the boards 41-29 to UCF, it was pretty much even on the glass after the Knights has an 11-1 bulge on the offensive glass in the first 8:20. In that early stretch, the Herd set the tone with six blocks and Jones’ team went 3-of-18.
“It was a tough game for me the other night (the loss to SMU),” Spikes said. “It was really tough. I’m just trying to find other ways to affect the game since rebounding is harder now.
“I’m tired of losing. We all are. We played hard, and even though we got outrebounded, we did what we had to do.”
Spikes certainly did. His shadow loomed over the UCF paint, and both coaches certainly noticed.
“Yeah, collectively, all over, this was probably (Spikes’ best game),” Herrion said of a player who had 19 rebounds against Ohio two years ago. “He scored a little bit more today, made some free throws for us (5-of-6, as a .465 shooter), was a presence defensively.
“He’s a really talented young man, and he responded.”