MEMPHIS, Tenn. — As Slim Pickens said as Mr. Taggart in “Blazing Saddles,” Mel Brooks not-politically correct Western comedy of 1974, “What in the Wide World of Sports is a-going on here?”
After taking the worst loss in the history of Conference USA (started 1995), and tying the second worst loss in Marshall history (vs. DePaul, back in 1976) by losing at Southern Miss, 102-46 (-56) and being out-scored in that game in the first half, 47-7, as shown on ESPN's SportsCenter, the team Herd fans were being told by experts at ESPN.com and CBSSports.com would challenge the Memphis Tigers for the Conference USA championship this year — well, the Herd did just that.
Marshall played the best game of the year on the road, falling 73-72 to the reigning C-USA champs at FedEx Forum in Memphis in the closest loss Marshall has ever had against the Tigers in Memphis, in front of the second biggest crowd of the year to see the Herd of 16,386 of mostly blue-clad Memphis fans.
Marshall (9-11, 2-3 in Conference USA) pulled to 70-69 with a lay-up by senior forward Dennis Tinnon with 1:18 left.
The Herd then had four chances to tie the game or even take a lead in the final 45 seconds, but the shots would not fall for Marshall in its seventh loss on the road this year, dropping to 1-9 away from the Henderson Center in Huntington.
Fortunately, the Herd will return to for its first back-to-back games at home with SMU and UCF, the last team in C-USA to host a pair of games at home in league play.
MU has certainly been tested with the first place, now 6-0 Golden Eagles of Southern Miss, the 5-0 Tigers on the road and 3-1 UTEP in the long trip of the season opening the C-USA road for the Herd.
Marshall Coach Tom Herrion said he wasn't happy with the loss, but he did like his team's competitiveness — the lack of which he called his team out for after the disaster just three days ago in Hattiesburg, Miss.
“Obviously I’m proud of our kids, tremendous fight today against a very good Memphis club in this environment — we just battled our brains out,” Herrion said.
“We came in here with every expectation to win, and we’re disappointed with the loss, but I’m proud of my kids. They were resilient. They did a great job to just keep battling. "
Memphis (16-3, 5-0 C-USA) won their 10th-straight game overall, and its eighth straight against the Herd in Memphis.
And while Marshall ended up shooting 65 percent from the free throw line, it had trouble making those crucial shots late.
The Herd made its first five free throws, but then made only 6-of-12 down the stretch to finish at 64.7 percent.
The Tigers shot slightly worse (64.3 percent), but shot more (28) and made more (18) than the Herd.
Tinnon got that basket (nine points and nine rebounds for the forward) to cut the Memphis lead to one, then the Tiger’s Joe Jackson drew a foul on the other end to give Memphis a 71-69 lead with a 1:03 left.
Marshall missed three chances on the next possession to tie it up before Geron Johnson came away with the defensive rebound.
The Thundering Herd got another opportunity for a win after two missed free throws by the Johnson.
A three from Pittman missed the rim, with the group of Marshall fans in attendance and the Herd’s bench was asking where was the foul on the shot.
But UM’s Chris Crawford grabbed the loose ball and drew a foul, making two free throws to go up 73-69 with under two seconds left.
“We had possession down two, the play before we executed, and prior to that we missed a layup and a tip-in to tie it. Then we got it back and ran the same play with a little different action and I thought Elijah (Pittman) came off (the screen),” said Herrion of the end of game.
“I have to look at the film to see if there was contact or what not (on Pittman). We played really well, out-rebounded them by six and only had 13 turnovers on the road.
“I’m very, very proud of my group. In a loss, which we don’t accept, I think we showed today about our character coming back.”
A three from Deandre Kane at the buzzer made the final 73-72, making the Herd’s junior guard the game’s leading scorer with 22 points on 9-of-18 shooting in the game, including 2-of-6 from three.
D.D. Scarver scored 20 points for the Herd, bouncing back from a 1-for-5 night at Southern Miss with a 7-of-15 afternoon, including 3-of-7 from three (all coming in the second half) and 3-for-3 from the stripe.
Scarver, who got a lift from about 40 or so family and friends making the three-hour drive from Birmingham, Ala. to Memphis to see him play so near home (Herd will be at UAB in Birmingham on Feb. 9).
The Herd shot 42 percent (27-of-65), and 37 percent from three (7-of-19), but the Tigers hit 48 percent (24-of-50) and 44 percent from three (7-of-16).
The big difference was the Tigers getting to the line 11 more times than the Herd’s 17 free throws, and Marshall was rung up for 23 personal fouls to just 16 called on Memphis.
Marshall out-rebounded the Tigers 39-33, marking the sixth time Memphis has been out-rebounded this season, a huge improvement over the Eagles out-boarding the Herd at Southern Miss 33-to-24.
Yet, against conventional wisdom, in the games the Tigers are out-rebounded, they are 5-1.
Josh Pastner of Memphis told the media the same thing he told his team on Thursday, Friday and early Saturday.
“That’s a dangerous team. That’s a good win for us,” said Pastner of Marshall.
“The guys stepped up in the end to get some stops and we got the 'W.' The crowd was terrific during the last 2:30. You don’t take any win for granted and you enjoy each one.
“Marshall was good, but we didn’t do a good job on containment which allowed them to get into the paint and forced us to have to help.
“That put us in a deficit in a rotation situation. They really hurt us on the weak-side rebounding.
Herrion was very proud of the rebounding effort by Marshall, who played through Pittman being down with the flu and not starting, and senior center Nigel Spikes being injured during the game but returning late when senior Robert Goff fouled out.
Goff, who had no points or rebounds in a start at USM, responded with six points, seven rebounds, three blocks, a steal and an assist in 28 minutes this afternoon.
“They’re one of the best rebounding teams in the conference. They were plus double digits in conference play on the glass,” Herrion said.
“I thought we played nose-to-nose, punch-for-punch with one of the best teams in America today. Now our challenge is to do that night-in and night-out through our games left in the conference.”
“He was terrific. He had 30-some to 40-some people at the game from Birmingham, which is right down the road,” Herrion said.
“I’m proud of him. Playing in front of his family is not an easy thing to do.” Scarver hit all of his threes in the second half to keep the Herd in the game.
Jackson led the Tigers with 16 points, marking the sixth time he has led the team in scoring, while Tarik Black grabbed a team-high seven rebounds, the third time he has led the Tigers in rebounding.
Jackson also led the Tigers in assists, dishing out five.
D.J. Stephens recorded a team-high three blocks while tying for the team lead with G. Johnson with two steals.
“We’re playing well,” said Pastner of the 10-game win streak, including five in a row in C-USA.
“We’ve gotten better since The Bahamas (where the Tigers lost to currently ranked No. 19 VCU and No. 12 Minnesota). We have to keep it going and not let there be any slippage. We can’t think that we’ve accomplished anything because there’s a lot of games left.”
Both teams went back and forth in the early going, but Memphis jumped out to a 12-8 lead five minutes into the game.
The Thundering Herd kept it close with back-to-back threes to knot the game at 14 before a three gave the Tigers a 17-14 advantage.
With a 20-18 lead, Memphis began an 8-0 run over the next 2:08 with Adonis Thomas and Black each contributing four points apiece to hand the Tigers a 10-point lead with seven and a half minutes to play in the half.
Marshall answered with a quick 7-0 run to cut the Memphis lead to 28-25 at the 5:42 mark.
Answering a Memphis three, Marshall came back with three-straight baskets to tie the game up at 31-31 before Thomas answered again from three to give Memphis a 34-31 advantage with 3:41 left in the half.
Marshall was held to just one field goal in the final 3:41 as Memphis went into the half with a 38-33 lead.
“ I thought our tempo and offensive execution, we had a few slips in the first half which led to them building a lead where we had some bad turnovers, but after that we settled in and really took care of the basketball,” Herrion said.
“We kind of got the ball where we wanted to get it. I thought we played with great effort and great heart, and we played better in certain areas, obviously to try and steal it.”
The Herd had eight steals to just seven for Memphis in the game, as Spikes and Kane each had two.
The Thundering Herd cut the Memphis lead to two in the opening minute of the second half before Stephens knocked down a three, followed by a basket from Jackson, to push the Tigers lead to seven.
A three from Scarver cut Marshall's deficit to two at the 12:41 mark.
Memphis answered with a three-point play from Jackson and a three from Barton to give the Tigers a six-point advantage before a free throw from Thomas and a layup by Jackson built Memphis a nine-point lead at 58-49.
Scarver brought the Thundering Herd back into it with a old fashioned three-point play from under the basket to make it 60-56 with 7:24 to go.
The teams traded baskets over the next four minutes before Marshall brought its deficit to just two with a layup by Elijah Pittman with 3:09 remaining.
Chris Crawford answered on the other end with a layup in the paint to bring the Tigers lead back to four at 68-64.
A three from Scarver brought the Marshall deficit down to one before two free throws from Black gave Memphis a 70-67 advantage, and went on to win 73-72 after Tinnon cut the lead to 70-69 with just over a minute left.
“I’m pleased with our effort. We clearly showed a lot of character in the last 72 hours,” Herrion said, in regards to the Herd taking a bus from Hattiesburg, Miss. to Memphis, spending two days getting ready after the rout at USM for the Tigers, a strategy that obviously worked in the Herd’s favor.
Marshall returns home for SMU on Wednesday night at 7 p.m., and like Memphis is in Memphis against Marshall, so the Herd is also 8-0 against the Mustangs.
SMU has never beaten the Herd, having lost in overtime in Dallas in the first meeting back in 2006, 75-72, and again in 2008 as Mark Dorris hit a big shot late in a 75-74 win. The Ponies then lost to Marshall at home in 2009, 53-50, when Markel Humphrey hit a near 75-foot shot at the buzzer for the win.
SMU is led by legendary coach Larry Brown, and opened the 2012-13 season 10-5. Since C-USA play has started, however, the Mustangs have fallen to 1-5 in the league, including a 74-65 loss Saturday at UCF.
Speaking of the Knights, former Herd coach Donnie Jones will bring his UCF team to the Henderson Center for what may be the final time as Central Florida heads to the Big East Conference for 2013-14, along with Houston, SMU and Memphis.
The 2 p.m. tip on Comcast Sports South will feature the Knights trying to get its first win over Marshall in Huntington since Jan. of 2006, as Marshall is 6-1 against UCF in Huntington and leads the overall series 8-6 all-time.
Since Jones left and Herrion took over the Herd, Marshall has won sellout or near sellout games 121-155 in three overtimes in Feb. 2010, 83-69 in 2011 and 65-64 last year in the Henderson Center behind 16 points by Kane (recruited to Marshall by Jones) and 10 rebounds by Tinnon.
UCF is ineligible for the Conference USA title and tournament in its final year in the league, due to NCAA violations in both football and basketball, but the Knights are 14-5, 4-1 in C-USA with the win over SMU, and play at Tulane on Wednesday at 8 p.m. (ET) before heading to Huntington.
# # # #
NOTES on Tigers-Herd’s possible last game in Memphis: The Tigers leads the all-time series, 12-2, 11-1 as members of Conference USA, but this was the closest game between Marshall and Memphis in Memphis, as Marshall lost by only one point, 73-72.
Last year, the Herd lost 83-76, a seven-point loss that was the previous closest non-victory.
Marshall has beat Memphis twice in Huntington in six games, winning 102-76 in the Veteran’s Memorial Field House under legendary Marshall Coach Cam Henderson on Dec. 23, 1952.
Herrion’s Herd picked up its first win over the Tigers in C-USA play, 85-70, in the Cam Henderson Center (named for the coach who invented the fast-break and zone defense) on Jan. 29, 2011.
The Tigers have not lost to the Thundering Herd in Memphis, holding an 8-0 record.
Memphis has won the last four meetings with Marshall, including beating the Herd in the finals of the C-USA Tournament in Memphis last year, 83-57, in Marshall’s first trip to the finals since joining Conference USA in the 2005-06 season.
Woody Woodrum is Publisher of Herd Insider. Comments on this story or anything to do with Herd Insider can be sent to