March 7, 2011
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – The Thundering Herd men’s basketball team is set for the 2011 Conference USA Tournament, which will pit Marshall against 11th seeded Houston in El Paso, Texas at 7:30 p.m. ET Wednesday night at the Don Haskins Center.
The Herd wrapped up the regular season in style, taking an 83-69 win over UCF on Saturday evening at the Cam Henderson Center. Marshall led by as many as 24 points in the second half of a wild contest that featured seven technical fouls. Damier Pitts led the way for MU with 25 points along with eight assists. Pitts connected on 10-of-11 free throws while hitting seven buckets.
The Herd is the No. 6 seed and will face off against Houston, who enters the tournament as the No. 11 seed. The winner of Wednesday’s game will go on to face host institution UTEP on Thursday. In its first five years in the league, MU has recorded one win in six tries with the victory coming over UAB in 2007. Prior to that, Marshall was 5-8 in Mid-American Conference Tournament games from 1997-2004 and 21-15 in Southern Conference Tournament contests from 1977 through 1996.
For just the second time since the 2001-02 season, Marshall finished its conference season with a winning record. After going 11-5 in C-USA last season, MU’s win over UCF gave it a 9-7 league mark. Last year ended a streak of eight seasons where the program failed to post a winning record in league play. Two of those seasons saw the Herd post a .500 mark.
With its 83-69 win over UCF on Saturday, Marshall improved its season RPI to 49 according to RealTimeRPI.com. That is the third best RPI in Conference USA behind only UAB and Memphis. The Herd has played 14 games against the RPI top 100, posting a 6-8 mark while going 2-4 against the top 50.
The Herd has taken care of business at home, facing six top 100 opponents at the Cam Henderson Center, posting a 5-1 record, winnings its five contests by 16.2 points per game. Marshall also grabbed what was arguably the best non-conference win by a C-USA school, taking down No. 21 West Virginia at a neutral site in Charleston, W.Va.
Houston finished the regular season with a 12-17 overall record and a 4-12 tally in league play. The Cougars limped down the stretch, losing their last six and 11 of their last 12. Their win over that span came at home against Tulane on February 12, 79-68. They finished the season at home against cross town rival Rice, falling by a score of 72-57.
Maurice McNeil is the Cougars’ leader, topping the team in scoring (13.2 PPG), rebounding (7.5 RPG) and blocked shots (41). He was limited to just seven points in the season finale against Rice, but got the job done on the glass, grabbing eight boards and also blocked three Owl shots.
Houston owns a 4-2 lead in its series over Marshall, but the Herd has won two of the last three meetings, including a 63-62 victory in Houston earlier in the season. This is the second time the squads will meet at a neutral site and first time in the postseason. In 1968, the Cougars and Herd met at Madison Square Garden in New York City, where the top-ranked Cougars grabbed a 102-93 win over MU.
A nip-and-tuck affair ensued in the first meeting this season between Marshall and Houston on February 1. The Herd escaped with a 63-62 win as DeAndre Kane erupted for a game-high 24 points. Damier Pitts chipped in 14 while Tirrell Baines had 10. A bucket by Aundra Williams in the final seconds proved to be the difference. Maurice NcNeil notched 16 points for the Cougars along with nine rebounds.
The winner of Wednesday’s first round game will advance to face UTEP on Thursday.