March 6, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON - On Senior Night 2013, there was something on display that the Henderson Center men's basketball crowds hadn't seen for most of the basketball season.
That's not a reference to the 1-3-1 zone Thundering Herd Coach Tom Herrion threw at Southern Mississippi on Tuesday night.
It's the fact that while Marshall had three seniors - Dennis Tinnon, Robert Goff and Nigel Spikes - who started their final home games, almost all among the Herd played like veterans.
The result was a white-knuckle 88-84 Conference USA triumph for Marshall (13-17, 6-9), and a solid sendoff for the Herd into Saturday's regular-season finale at East Carolina and then the C-USA Tournament in Tulsa next week.
For a team that has often struggled mightily this season, the Herd got scoring from nine players and rebounds from eight. It had 20 assists on 27 baskets. It made more than 77 percent of its free throws for a second straight game.
And the Herd played with a resiliency despite foul issues among its big men, hanging tough when the Golden Eagles (22-8, 11-4) tied it four times and took the lead once in the final 7:25.
Marshall's win was sweet revenge after the 102-46 loss USM put on the Herd in late January in Hattiesburg.
Contributors, you ask?
*Goff wiped away pregame tears following the Seniors ceremony and scored all eight of his points - matching his season best - in the first four minutes.
*Guard D.D. Scarver, who sat after starting MU's first 29 games because Herrion wanted to start Goff on Senior Night, came off the bench for 19 points, including four straight big free throws with 12 and 9 seconds left. The junior led the way among a reserve quartet as the Herd scored a season-high 37 bench points.
*He had plenty of help, obviously, most notably from freshman Tamron Manning
, who scored a career-best 12 points to go with four assists in a steady 18 minutes at the point. Manning, Scarver and forward Jamir Hanner
were a combined 6-for-9 from the floor, 5-of-7 behind the three-point arc and 7-of-8 at the foul stripe in the first half.
*The Herd shot 64 percent (16-of-25) in that half, its best shooting half of the season, topping a 60-percent first half in last month's win at UCF.
*Elijah Pittman, the Herd's scoring leader and on the night, scored 22 points - his 10th straight double-figure game - and hit a clutch three-pointer with 1:38 left to break a tie at 76.
*With Herrion trying to manage the foul situation among his big men - not to mention five team fouls collected in the first 3:53 of the second half -- 7-foot-2 Yous Mbao came off the bench to play a season-high 14 minutes, getting a block, a rebound and hitting two free throws.
*DeAndre Kane took only 10 shots and scored nine points, but he played his customary team-high 38 minutes and had seven assists, but still moved into 15th on the Herd career scoring list with 1,454 points.
*And putting a wrap on it, appropriately, was another senior - Spikes. In the game's first 36:35, the Herd center had two points, three blocks and three rebounds. In the final 3:22? He tied the game at 74 by making the front end of a one-and-one. He gave MU a 76-75 lead on a stickback of a Scarver miss with 2:50 left. And at 0:30.3 seconds, Spikes' two free throws broke a tie at 79, handing the Herd the lead for good.
But by the end, the Herd needed every bit of the above, because Southern Miss wouldn't go away. The Golden Eagles shot 51.9 percent and hit 11-of-23 threes. In an impressive performance, Dwayne Davis had five of those, and also knifed his way through the Herd for 35 points.
That's the most for an MU opponent since Aubrey Coleman scored 37 in a Hofheinz Pavilion win over the Herd in January 2010, and the most for a visiting player in "The Cam" since Kyle Hines put up 38 for UNC Greensboro in an overtime loss to the Herd in the 2006-07 season opener.
Only UCF's Keith Clanton, who had 36 in the Knights' overtime loss at ECU, has more for a C-USA club this season.
Marshall's 55.1 shooting percentage was the best of the season's 30 games. The Herd hadn't scored 88 points since an 89-82 home win over Nevada back on Thanksgiving Saturday.
This wasn't just the Herd's best game since that triumph on Turkey Day weekend. It was Marshall's best game - period -- of what truly has been a roller coaster season.
It's March. Madness is upon us. The road has been rugged for the Herd, but if winning the way it did over a quality team is any indication, Marshall may have found its game just in the nick of time.